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Russia keen on observer status at SAARC

world Updated: Apr 11, 2007 13:55 IST
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After Iran, Russia is keen to get the status of an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), official sources said.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov discussed Moscow's interest in SAARC, among other issues, with Foreign Secretary Shivshanakar Menon on Monday, the sources told the agency.

But Denisov, who ended a three-day visit to India on Tuesday, has clarified that Russia's formal application to get SAARC status may take time.

The inclusion of Afghanistan as the eighth member of SAARC and Iran's request to be an observer has led to a rethink about Moscow's attitude towards South Asia.

Also, Beijing's active participation, also as observer, at the 14th SAARC summit here along with the US, the European Union, Japan and South Korea has apparently stirred Moscow.

China and Russia are key movers at the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional grouping that also comprises Central Asian republics and where India, Iran and Pakistan enjoy observer status at the SCO.

Russia may pitch for closer interaction between SCO and SAARC, reliable sources said.

When Moscow decides to apply for observer status at SAARC, India will be more than willing to support it, the sources said.

From New Delhi's point of view, Moscow's presence will provide a healthy balance to the grouping in which other global players are observers.

Besides, India, Russia and China are trying to deepen strategic and economic cooperation. SAARC can provide another opportunity to them for their networking.

The 14th SAARC summit here this month approved Iran's application for observer status.

The 22-year-old regional grouping comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives and Afghanistan.

Iran will participate as an observer at the 15th summit in the Maldives, making SAARC perhaps the only regional grouping where Washington will share space with Tehran.

Besides Russia, Myanmar is also keen to come in as observer at SAARC.