UPDATE 1-BRICS meets ‘friends’ seeking closer ties amid bloc expansion drive

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BRICS plans to expand 5-nation bloc

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Interested countries sent officials to South Africa for talks

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The alliance seen as a counterpoint to Western power

(Adds bullet points, quotes from Congo and Iran)

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, June 2 (Reuters) – Senior officials from more than a dozen countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, were in talks on Friday on forging closer ties with the BRICS bloc of major economies emerging, as it came together to deepen its ties and position itself. as a counterweight to the West.

The BRICS, which now consist of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, are planning to expand their membership, and a growing number of countries have expressed interest in joining. .

Once seen as a loose association of disparate emerging economies, the BRICS have taken on a more concrete form in recent years, first under the leadership of China and, since the start of the Ukrainian war in February 2022, under additional impetus from Russia.

In remarks opening Friday’s talks, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor called the bloc 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 kept their commitments to the developing world and are trying to shift all the blame to the South,” Pandor said.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Gabon and Kazakhstan have all sent representatives to Cape Town for so-called “Friends of BRICS” talks, according to a schedule official.

Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia participated virtually.

Other countries echoed Pandora’s condemnation of wealthy states. The foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that developed countries lack the political will to promote collective peace and prosperity.

“My country (…) urges the BRICS countries to bring about change and the creation of a new international order,” Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula Apala said in a statement.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was willing to join the bloc and hoped the mechanism for new membership would be decided “at the earliest”.

EXPANDING BLOCK

China said last year it wanted the bloc to begin a process of admitting new members. And other members have indicated countries they would like to see joined. However, officials said on Thursday there was still work to be done and seemed aware of the need to proceed with caution.

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

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said.

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

Preparations for this summit are taking place under a cloud of controversy due to the possible presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As a member of the ICC, South Africa would face pressure to arrest Putin if he goes to the summit. Pretoria said it was still considering its legal options to accommodate him.

(Additional reporting by Carien du Plessis, Bhargav Acharya and Nellie Peyton in Johannesburg and Krishn Kaushik; Editing by Joe Bavier, Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)

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