Russia keen to join SAARC as observer
Islamabad, Nov 22: There are clear indications from Russia that it is keen to obtain observer status in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and may formally approach the SAARC chair in this regard in the coming months.
Dawn newspaper quoted Russian diplomatic sources as saying that Russia's keenness to be associated with SAARC is prompted by the positive developments in Indo-Pakistan relations and expansion of the grouping beyond the region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has expressed his country's willingness to cooperate with Pakistan in the defence field.
He had told a news conference last week, after talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri in Islamabad, that his country was ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in defence within framework of Russia's international commitments and domestic legislation process.
''Russia has a big interest in SAARC and it is clear that it cannot remain out of the process with countries like Afghanistan joining in and Iran also making a bid for it,'' said the sources.
According to the sources, Moscow is seriously contemplating a bid for the observer status but it is still to approach the SAARC chair or the secretariat in Kathmandu.
Moscow, which has been closely watching the moves within SAARC, is expected to informally sound out the member states about its interest before making a formal request for the observer status.
Observers believe it is more likely that Russia would first discuss this matter with its close ally India which is to host the next SAARC Summit in April 2007.
While there is no official confirmation, the Russian foreign minister may have discussed this matter with India when he was in New Delhi last week.
When an Indian diplomat in Islamabad was asked about it he was not sure if the Russian foreign minister had mentioned it.
The Indian diplomat said he was not even aware of Moscow's interest in becoming a SAARC observer.
According to officials at the Foreign Ministry, the Russian foreign minister did not raise this topic during his visit to Pakistan the same week.
However, South Asian diplomats in Islamabad say it is unlikely that any SAARC member state would oppose the Russian bid for observer status. Pakistan would welcome it, is the dominant view in the foreign policy circles here, said the newspaper.
Pakistan had played a key role in helping Russia get the observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Conference last year and in turn Russia helped Pakistan get the same status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.