The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will throw its doors open to all countries in the Asia-Pacific region, said a top Kremlin aide as SCO leaders gathered in Tashkent for an annual summit.

The Tashkent summit is expected to approve rules on Friday for admission of states to the SCO regional security group, which has six members — China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

“The SCO will be open to all Asian-Pacific countries that are not under United Nations sanctions and are not in a state of armed conflict,” said Sergei Prikhodko, foreign policy adviser to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The sanctions provision effectively blocks Iran from joining the SCO. In another setback for Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not been invited to attend the Tashkent summit. The Iranian leader made it a point to attend every SCO summit in recent years, but this time Russia and China refused to extend him the invitation, a Russian daily reported on Thursday citing diplomatic sources.

With the controversial Iranian President absent from Tashkent, the SCO leaders will concentrate on the fight against terrorism and extremism as well Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been invited.

Russian diplomatic sources suggested that the SCO leaders could discuss behind closed doors Afghanistan's further political development.

The SCO “is working on a comprehensive strategic approach to help stabilise Afghanistan,” said the sources.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is also attending while India is represented by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia have observer status in the SCO.

At a bilateral meeting with Mr. Medvedev on Thursday, China's President Hu Jintao said the Russian leader's forthcoming visit to Beijing later this year should serve to “maintain the dynamics of breathtaking expansion of Chinese-Russian ties”.

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