Foreign Ministers from China, Russia, Asian states begin talks in Shanghai

Foreign Ministers from China, Russia and four Central Asian states began talks on regional security on Monday amid continuing tensions over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran, along with India and Pakistan, is an observer to the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization, although it wasn't immediately clear if the Islamic regime had sent a representative to the talks in China's commercial hub.

China and Russia, both veto-holding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have argued against tough measures to force Iran to curtail its nuclear program that are being urged by the U.S. with limited backing from Britain and France.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday declared it pointless for Europe to devise an economic and political incentive package if it required Tehran to stop enriching uranium, effectively pulling the rug from under the latest international diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis.

The SCO, whose other members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, has been building ties to Iran, with China and Russia last month reportedly offering Tehran full membership.

The SCO has been taking increasing steps to lend substance to the grouping, which got its informal start a decade ago but was formally launched five years ago.

A permanent SCO secretariat has been set up in Beijing, and last month, members announced plans for their largest-ever joint military exercises in Russian territory next year, although China vehemently refuses to term the grouping a military alliance.

Along with its overarching aim of combating Islamic extremism, the SCO has lately sought to branch out into new cultural, political, and economic territory, including fighting smuggling and drug trafficking.

China and Russia dominate the organization and have used it to further their economic and political priorities in Central Asia, especially in countering Western influence and the presence of American bases in what they consider their traditional sphere of influence, reports the AP.

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