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Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE attend BRICS meeting in South Africa as bloc mulls expansion

Iran, which has applied for observer status in BRICS, is finessing non-Western states to remedy its battered economy. 
Foreign ministers of BRICS nations pose for a family photo with representatives from Africa and the global South during a summit in Cape Town, South Africa, June 2, 2023.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates foreign ministers attended the BRICS meeting in South Africa this week, as the bloc seeks to expand its membership to counterbalance Western powers. 

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan attended the ministerial meeting of the BRICS nations on Thursday and held bilateral meetings on Friday. 

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran are not members of the bloc, which is currently comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Iran submitted an application last year to join as an observer state. 

Saudi Arabia is in discussions to join BRICS' lender bank, the New Development Bank, the Financial Times reported this week. Created in 2014, the bank is seen as a counterweight to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Prince Faisal held meetings with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor, as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Sheikh Abdullah also met with Jaishankar, Pandor and Lavrov. The UAE's top diplomat held a bilateral meeting with his Iranian counterpart as well. 

On Friday, Pandor portrayed the bloc as a champion of the global South. 

"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.

Upon his departure from Tehran, Amir-Abdollahian hailed BRICS as a body that represents half of the global population and called his visit an example of Iran's "active presence at international bodies" and a step in Iran's "balanced" foreign policy.  

In a pre-recorded interview broadcast on state TV after his departure, Amir-Abdollahian said that a key topic on his agenda in Cape Town would be "de-dollarization" in trade with BRICS member states.  

Iranian officials have been persistently pursuing that goal in their recent meetings with friendly states.  

The country's Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Mehdi Safari announced last month that the Islamic Republic has already proposed to member states of both BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to designate a non-dollar currency for their trade ties "to neutralize the impacts of unilateral sanctions."   

International punitive measures coupled with prevalent corruption at home have driven Iran's economy to the edge of collapse. The value of the national currency has dropped to all-time lows as inflation soars well above 50%, pulling a growing number of middle-class Iranians below the official poverty line.

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