Iran Press Service


The sixth Summit Conference of the badly lamed ten members Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO) closed its one day meeting in Tehran Saturday amid growing tensions between it's three founding fathers that are Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.

Established under the name of Regional Co-operation for Development (RCD) by Iran, Turkey and Pakistan as an off shoot of the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) that was formed at the height of the Cold War by the United States and Great Britain plus the three regional states as a link between NATO and South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), RCD changed name after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran to become ECO, as Iran had defected the Western alliance to go closer to the then Soviet sphere of influence.

From the outset the organisation never took off as a real regional economic organisation, owing its survival as a "club" to Iran, then the richest country in the region.

"There are many clubs, some more or less active, others even defunct, that keep their signs. RCD is one of them", once commented the late Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the Shah's longest lasting Prime Minister who was executed by the mollahs in the first months after the triumph of the Islamic revolution.

However, the renamed "club" took in seven new members after the collapse of the Soviet Empire with the adhesion of six newly independent Central Asian republics of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan plus Afghanistan.

As a much enfeebled Iran that had lost the importance, money, might, prestige and regional power it enjoyed before the Islamic revolution was categorised as a "rogue State" by Washington, and isolated world-wide, Turkey and Pakistan, both allied with the United States and emerged as new regional centres of gravity were trying hard to bring the "club" under their own strategic zones of influence.

That's why the absence of Turkey's new President, Mr. Ahmet Necdet Cezer is considered by observers not only as a "very bad blow" dealt to the prestige of both the Islamic Republic in general and President Mohammad Khatami, who had dispatched a special envoy to Ankara to "personally invite" his Turkish counterpart -- as he did with the Pakistani strongman General Parviz Mosharraf, who accepted-- in particular, but also as a requiem for ECO.

Though the Turkish State Minister Mehmet Kececileriler who attends the meeting had "assured" that both Mr. Cezer and Mr. Isma'il Cem, the Foreign Minister, were "too busy" to come to Tehran, yet Iranian diplomats fears that Ankara might be after torpedoing the organisation as a whole.

"Sezer's decision did not surprised p-political analysts due to Turkey's recent and renewed allegations of an "Iranian connection" to a series of unsolved political murders in Turkey", the English language Turkish Daily News said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi expressed regret with the absence of the Turkish President in Tehran and called on Turkey, as a founder member of ECO, to play a stronger role in the organisation.

In fact, relations between Tehran with both Ankara and Islamabad are at their lowest following, in the one hand, accusations by Turkey that Islamic Iran is both behind Turkish extremist Islamic groups that have assassinated several leading Turkish journalists and intellectuals and the Turkish Kurdish separatists of the PKK and on the other, Tehran and Islamabad supporting respectively the defeated Islamic Northern Alliance and the Taleban who controls more than 85 per cent of the neighbouring Afghanistan.

In his opening address to the Heads of States and Prime Ministers who attended the Tehran meeting, President Mohammad Khatami of Iran announced that his country was prepared to share the natural and energy resources of the Caspian Sea "in a just and equitable manner".

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly affirmed in the international forums that the Caspian legal regime ought to be determined according to the existing historical records (including the extant treaties), principle of good-neighbourhood and respect for the economic and security interests of the littoral states. In this direction, a regime of joint ownership will certainly meet the interests of all five littoral states. However, should these littoral states support a sharing scheme of the Sea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, to prove its good intention and to strengthen convergence among littoral states, is ready to support the idea of the division of the sea based on just and equal shares", Hojjatoleslam Khatami announced.

"We believe that the only way out of the present deadlock is activating the Caspian Co-operation Council", he suggested without emphasising further..

Observers noted that this is the first time that the Islamic Republic has publicly declared its readiness to abandon former treaties signed between the defunct Soviet Union and the toppled Iranian Monarchy concerning the Caspian Sea they shared between them only.

In his lengthy and otherwise insignificant speech, Mr. Khatami called on the members to take "a fresh look" at the opportunities and challenges before the Organisation and hoped that this Summit would succeed in adopting "the necessary measures to expand regional co-operation, promote common understanding and assume a more active international role".

"We should redefine the place of ECO against new national and international challenges", he added.

In a joint statement named the "Tehran Declaration", and released at the end of the Summit, the participants called on the members to complete the pending formalities for the early establishment of the ECO Trade and Development Bank and ECO Reinsurance company.

The ECO leaders said the rights of all the states should be recognised in the emerging patterns of globalisation to freely determine their own political, economic and social systems.

The ECO leaders expressed concern about the fact that liberalisation of international trade has not provided benefits for all developing countries and underlined the need to restore confidence in the multilateral trading system through enhanced participation of all developing countries", the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

They also underlined the principle of universal membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and called for acceleration of the accession process "without political considerations" and urged all the members of the WTO to "refrain from placing excessive demands on developing countries seeking accession to WTO", the statement further said.

Ahead of the summit, Iranian Foreign Minister opened a ministerial conference Thursday with a call for easing of customs restrictions and strengthening of banking relations between member countries.

Regarding the need to reform the co-operation structure of member states, ECO's ministerial meeting decided to remove the tariff and other impediments on importing goods, while balancing transit and transportation rates,'' said Kharrazi.

Mr. Abdolrahim Gavahi, an advisor to the Foreign Minister and Head of the Centre for International Economic Studies of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) was elected to succeed Onder Ozar as Secretary-General of the Organisation for a three-year term. ENDS ECO 10699


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