But last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack blasted the SCO for having included Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the summit: "Having Iran there as an observer—Iran, the world's largest or most significant state sponsor of terrorism ... runs counter to the idea that this is a group dedicated in part to countering terrorism in the region." Ahmadinejad responded by warning SCO nations against "domineering powers [who] use their force against and interfere in the affairs of other states." Still, the regional conference could prove useful in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. After meeting on the sidelines with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Ahmadinejad softened his tough rhetoric, saying on Friday that a package of incentives designed by the international community to stop Iran from enriching uranium was "a step forward." Small words, but enough to make the SCO feel like it's got some power, after all.
It's hard to project power with a name like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Certainly, the 10-country Eurasian assembly, which gathered in China's financial capital last week, can't claim the brand recognition of the European Union. But the SCO—which consists of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as observer nations India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia—is rapidly raising its profile. The regional bloc's massive population (more than 40% of the world's total), wealth of natural resources (more than 20% of the world's oil reserves) and strategic location could give considerable influence to an alliance that is sometimes dismissed as a club of second-rate strongmen. "This Eurasian region, which is at the confluence of so many civilizations, has a major potential for instability," says Li Guofu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute for International Studies in Beijing. "A lot of countries like America see the SCO as very important because it can play a role in stopping terrorism, extremism and separatism."