Iran and Saudi Arabia were among six countries set to join Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in the BRICS economic bloc from next year, the bloc announced Thursday, a move that will likely throw more scrutiny on Beijing's political influence in the Persian Gulf.
The United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia are also set to become new members of BRICS from 2024.
BRICS was set up in 2009 as a group of emerging market economies and has become one of the leading voices for more representation of the developing world and the Global South in world affairs.
It currently represents around 40% of the world's population and more than a quarter of the world's GDP, although that is set to increase with the new members, which include three of the world's biggest oil producers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran.
Recently, questions have been raised over if BRICS is taking an anti-West turn under the influence of China and Russia amid Beijing's deteriorating relationship with the United States and Russia's stand-off with the West over the war in Ukraine.
Mohammad Jamshidi, the political deputy of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, called the decision to add his country “a historic move.”
“A strategic victory for Iran’s foreign policy,” Jamshidi wrote on X, the website formerly known as Twitter. “Felicitations to the Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution and great nation of Iran.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country presently chairs BRICS, made the announcement on the six new members on the final day of the bloc's summit in the financial district of Sandton in Johannesburg.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are attending the summit and were present alongside Ramaphosa for the announcement.
“This membership expansion is historic,” Xi said. “It shows the determination of BRICS countries for unity and development.”
“Over the years, China has stood in solidarity with developing countries through thick and thin."
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not travel to the summit after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March for the abduction of children from Ukraine. He has participated in the summit virtually, while Russia was represented at the announcement in Johannesburg by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
While Saudi Arabia had been touted as a likely new member if the five current BRICS members reached a consensus on expansion, Iran's inclusion had been viewed as possibly politically problematic. China and Russia were pushing for expansion, but Brazil, India and South Africa, which have strong bilateral ties with the U.S., only gave their approval more recently.
The current members agreed on the final details of expansion after two days of talks in Johannesburg, although Ramaphosa said the idea had been worked on for over a year.
The BRICS leaders began their talks in Johannesburg on Tuesday night and were locked in discussions most of the day Wednesday, thrashing out the final details. BRICS is a consensus-based organization and all members have to agree on policies.
It's the second time that BRICS has decided to expand. The bloc was formed in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa was added in 2010.
In an online message, United Arab Emirates leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan welcomed the BRICS announcement and said his nation would be joining an “important group.”
“We look forward to a continued commitment of cooperation for the prosperity, dignity and benefit of all nations and people around the world,” Sheikh Mohammed said on X.
Until recently, the inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates together in the same economic or political organization would have been unthinkable, as tensions escalated following the collapse of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal and a series of attacks attributed to the country since.
But as the coronavirus pandemic receded, the UAE became the first to reengage diplomatically with Iran, following missile attacks on Abu Dhabi claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen.
In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced they had reached a separate détente with Chinese mediation. China has sought closer relations with all three nations, particularly Iran, from which it has imported oil since the collapse of the nuclear deal.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE also have maintained relations with Russia amid Moscow’s war on Ukraine, much to the chagrin of Washington, which long has provided security guarantees for the major oil-producing nations.
Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said in a statement that his country would cooperate and coordinate with the rest of the members to achieve the bloc’s aims in economic cooperation, and to “raise the voice of the Global South."
The news was also a major boost for Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, as its government works to reengage with many global partners and financial institutions after a devastating two-year conflict in the country’s Tigray region ended last year.
The war caused billions of dollars of damage and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, under pressure from the U.S. and European Union, has turned to other partners like China, Russia and Gulf nations for support.
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