By Ivan Kesic
Iran's President Ebrahim Raeisi will on Wednesday leave for Johannesburg, South Africa, to participate in the 15th BRICS summit and hold meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the summit.
In addition to Iran, top officials from 66 other countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean have been invited to the summit of the five-member alliance of emerging economies.
South Africa, the host of this week’s summit, became the chair of the powerful grouping on January 1, 2023, under the theme ‘BRICS and Africa: Partnership of Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism.’
Among others, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to attend the summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will participate virtually in the summit and will be represented in Johannesburg by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The issues that will prominently figure during this summit include the expansion of the bloc to dozens of countries that have elicited interest to join it, as well as the development of a new global financial network, which was the focus of the two previous annual BRICS meetings as well.
Amid the rapid transition from the unipolar to multipolar world order and the waning influence of the US, many countries are looking at BRICS as a powerful geopolitical and economic alternative.
On August 8, a conference titled ‘Iran and BRICS: Prospects for Partnership and Cooperation’ was held at the Institute for Political and International Studies in Tehran, which saw great attendance.
Speaking at the meeting, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs said the country is ready to develop and expand relations with the BRICS group despite sanctions and other pressures.
He said Iran, as a key protagonist in the new world order, welcomes multilateralism in the global arena.
On Friday, Iran’s President Raeisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed Iran’s future membership of the bloc during a phone call.
It was followed by a phone call between Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Sunday, who also discussed the BRICS summit and Iran’s participation.
What is BRICS and its role?
BRICS is an intercontinental geopolitical bloc consisting of five countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, with their leaders meeting annually at summits and coordinating multilateral policies.
The five BRICS countries account for 42 percent of the global population and about 27 percent of both the world's land area and the world’s economy, pointing to the significance of the grouping.
The bloc has become increasingly important in addressing international issues since it was founded in 2006 and is often seen as an alternative to Western political and economic hegemony.
The BRICS member states have emerged as foremost geopolitical rivals to the G7 bloc of leading Western economies, announcing competing initiatives such as the New Development Bank (NDB), a competitor to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The members of the bloc are also expected to discuss local currency, ditching the US Dollar, as well as lending within the NDB, which will be a major blow to the US-dominated global financial system.
Recently, amid geopolitical shifts, the grouping has been keen on expansion, and last month South Africa's envoy to BRICS announced that over 40 countries had expressed interest in joining the bloc.
Among the largest countries that want to join the bloc include the Islamic Republic of Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Mexico and Argentina.
Are there any obstacles to Iran joining BRICS?
Iran's membership in BRICS requires the consent of all five existing members, and the joint adoption of a mechanism for opening doors to new members, as such a formal process currently does not exist.
Taking into account recent expansion announcements and statements from top officials of the five members, including China and Russia, Iran's accession to the bloc looks like a foregone conclusion, although the timeframe has not been decided yet.
Iran submitted an application to Chinese authorities to join the BRICS grouping in June last year, and Beijing responded positively to the idea of Iran’s entry into it.
In mid-July, Chang Hua, China's ambassador to Iran, reaffirmed Beijing's position, stating that China and its President Xi Jinping support Iran's membership of the influential alliance.
Moscow also supports the accession of Iran, which was most recently confirmed in the statements of Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who said Russia considers Iran to be one of the strongest candidates to join BRICS.
On July 25, after a meeting between Ajit Kumar Doval, the national security advisor of India, and his Iranian counterpart Ali-Akbar Ahmadian, the former said that India will use every means and opportunity at its disposal to facilitate Iran's accession to the bloc.
On the same day, Minister In Presidency of South Africa Khumbudzo Ntshavheni also expressed her country's support for Iran's membership in BRICS.
Brazil has in the past opposed the expansion of the grouping, fearing that the original members would lose their influence, but it has of late dropped the rigid stance and agreed to the conditional expansion.
Iran and Brazil enjoy good bilateral relations, especially since the beginning of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's presidency, and Iran meets all the conditions that Brazil has put forward for admission of new members.
Also, there is no dispute between Iran and other candidates for BRICS membership, as evidenced by Amir-Abdollahian's statement last week, which backed the joining of Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well.
How Iran can contribute to BRICS?
The significance of Iran's membership in BRICS was highlighted by Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, who cited the country's strategic and unique geographical location, huge energy reserves, affordable and short transportation and transit network, young and expert manpower, and modern science and technology as major advantages that the grouping can benefit from.
Even Western analysts believe that the importance of BRICS membership is the size of the population because it contributes to the ongoing de-dollarization drive, and Iran, with a population of around 85 million people and a developed economy, is one of the largest and most eligible candidates.
Furthermore, due to US sanctions, the country has for long been deprived of Western currencies which makes it an ideal candidate in the new BRICS-centric global financial system. Iran’s experience in resisting and neutralizing sanctions, experts say, can help other members.
Iran's potential is evidenced by the fact that the largest European countries and their industrial giants rushed to Iran after the nuclear agreement was concluded and were reluctantly forced to withdraw due to US sanctions and hegemony over the Western financial system.
The geographical importance of Iran is that it represents a land bridge between the largest BRICS members, China, India and Russia, with the Arab world, Europe and Africa, which is of great significance for strengthening existing and developing new transit routes.
With the second largest reserves of natural gas and the third largest reserves of oil, along with the control of the strategically important energy sea route, Iran also has a colossal energy importance.
In the field of energy and ensuring lasting energy security, Iran is an "absolute added value for BRICS and its future members," Amir-Abdollahian explained recently.
In science, Iran is the 15th largest publisher of scientific works in the world, ahead of any other candidate for BRICS membership, as well as among the top 10 countries in advanced technologies.
The most important of all is Iran's long-standing dedication to multilateralism and its unwavering adherence to its positions in international relations, bravely and successfully defying US pressures.