DUSHANBE, July 29, 2008, Asia-Plus - Iran''s plans to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) remain unchanged, the country''s ambassador to Moscow said on Monday.

The SCO is a regional security group comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Iran, as well as Pakistan, observer states at the SCO since 2005, have been seeking full membership of the organization.

"We hope Iran will become a permanent and active member of this organization," Gholamreza Ansari said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

He said delays in Iran''s admission had not affected bilateral relations with SCO member states. "We consider these countries our friends in the region, and they must take account of their national interests while resolving the issue," the diplomat said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that the issue of Iran joining the organization had not been discussed at a meeting of the member states'' foreign ministers in Dushanbe.

The meeting had been expected to decide on whether to admit new members or set up mechanisms for a partnership dialogue for other countries to join.

Western powers have been watching closely Iran''s attempts to join the regional bloc, widely seen as a counterweight to NATO''s influence in Eurasia.