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Saudi and UAE attend Brics meet to deepen ties

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud meet on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers from the Brics countries in Cape Town, South Africa, on June 1, 2023

Senior officials from over a dozen countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran were in talks on closer links with the Brics bloc of major emerging economies on Friday as it met to deepen ties and position itself as a counterweight to the West.

Brics, which now consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is considering expanding its membership and a growing number of countries, mostly from the global south, have expressed interest in joining.

Once viewed as a loose association of disparate emerging economies, Brics has in recent years taken more concrete shape, driven initially by China and, since the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, with added impetus from Russia.

In remarks opening Friday’s discussions, host South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor spoke of the bloc as a champion of the developing world, which she said was abandoned by wealthy states and global institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The world has faltered in cooperation. Developed countries have never met their commitments to the developing world and are trying to shift all responsibility to the global South,” Pandor said.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Gabon and Kazakhstan all sent representatives to Cape Town for so-called “Friends of Brics” talks, an official programme showed.

Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia were participating virtually.

Brics heavyweight China said last year it wanted the bloc to launch a process to admit new members. And other members have pointed to countries they would like to see join the club.

However, officials said on Thursday there was still work to be done and appeared mindful of the need to proceed carefully.

“Brics is a history of success,” Brazilian foreign minister Mauro Vieira said. “The group is also a brand and an asset, so we have to take care of it.”

Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said Thursday’s talks had included deliberations on the guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures of what an expanded Brics bloc would look like.

“This is still work in progress,” he added.

India’s foreign ministry has previously emphasised the need for a common policy for such an expansion, rather than the consideration of candidacies on an individual basis.

South Africa’s Pandor said the foreign ministers were aiming to complete work on a framework for admitting new members before BRICS leaders meet at a summit in Johannesburg in August.

Preparations for that summit are going forward under a cloud of controversy due to the possible attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the target of a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As an ICC member, South Africa would face pressure to arrest Putin were he to travel to the summit.

Pretoria has said it is still considering its legal options for hosting the Russian president.