JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Iran and Saudi Arabia are among six countries that will join the BRICS bloc of developing economies as new members from 2024, South Africa's president said Thursday.
United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia are also set to join the bloc that is currently made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country presently chairs BRICS, made the announcement at a bloc summit in Johannesburg.
The five current members agreed at this week's summit to expand the bloc after two days of talks, although Ramaphosa said the idea of expansion had been worked on for over a year.
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. The BRICS bloc currently represents around 40% of the world's population and contributes more than a quarter of global GDP.
Three of the group's other leaders, 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.
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.
"This membership expansion is historic," Chinese leader Xi said. "It shows the determination of BRICS countries for unity and development."
In an online message, United Arab Emirates leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan welcomed the BRICS announcement that it would include his nation in "this 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, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates together in the same economic or political organization would have been unthinkable in recent years amid escalating tensions following the collapse of Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal and a series of attacks attributed to the country since.
But the UAE was first to reengage diplomatically with Iran as it emerged from the coronavirus pandemic and following missile attacks on Abu Dhabi claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen. In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced they reached a separate détente with Chinese mediation.
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. China has also sought closer relations with all three nations, particularly Iran, from which it has imported oil since the collapse of the nuclear deal.
AP writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
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