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Iran’s president will probably attend BRICS Summit, says SA’s Pandor

Iran’s president will probably attend BRICS Summit, says SA’s Pandor
Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on 12 June 2023. (Photo: Carlos Becerra / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 6 August 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Misha Jordaan / Gallo Images / Netball World Cup 2023)

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor has insisted that Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi's likely attendance at the BRICS Summit does not mean the group is becoming pro-Russian or anti-Western.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, Russia’s close military ally, will probably attend the BRICS Summit in South Africa from 22-24 August. Iran has also formally applied to join BRICS, along with Cuba, Venezuela and 20 other countries.

But this does not mean BRICS is becoming pro-Russian or anti-Western, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor insists. 

Pandor confirmed on Monday that Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Lula da Silva would attend the summit in Sandton in person.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend in person but would “actively participate” in most of the sessions virtually. He cannot attend as he is under a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Pandor firmly denied reports that Modi had been reluctant to attend in person — mainly because of tensions with China — and that it was only a call from President Cyril Ramaphosa late last week that persuaded him to come. Pandor said the call had been scheduled before reports emerged that Modi might not come to South Africa. 

Pandor said that 67 other leaders from Africa and the Global South had also been invited to attend and meet the BRICS leaders in outreach sessions. Of these, 34 had confirmed and other responses were still coming in. 

Pandor would not divulge the names of the other leaders invited except Raisi, whom she expected to attend. Ramaphosa had also invited the leaders of 20 international organisations, including UN Secretary-General António Guterres and African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. 

She disclosed that South Africa and BRICS had not issued an invitation to French President Emmanual Macron, who had indicated last month that he would like to attend.

Pandor said that 23 other countries had formally applied to join BRICS and many more had expressed interest in doing so. The 23 are: Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Morocco, Nigeria, State of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Vietnam. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: BRICS countries show signs of division over potential for expanding membership

This indicated the growing recognition of BRICS as a champion of the Global South and of the tangible benefits of being a member, she said. She noted that South Africa itself had received loans totalling $5.4-billion from the BRICS New Development Bank for 12 development projects.

Pandor said South Africa’s overall trade with its BRICS partners had grown on average by 10% a year between 2017 and 2021 and had reached R830-billion in 2022, accounting for 21% of South Africa’s global trade. She acknowledged that SA continued to have a trade deficit in its overall trade with BRICS countries as most of its exports to them were primary products.

Concerns about Raisi’s participation

Pandor was asked about concerns that the participation of Raisi and the possible acceptance of Iran and certain other countries as members could make BRICS more pro-Russian or anti-Western. 

“I don’t think we see BRICS as being pro-Russia or anti-Western … South Africa’s trading partners in the West are very, very important to South Africa’s economic progress.”

Pandor said BRICS was united by a set of principles and values, none of which were intended to make enemies. 

“I certainly would guard against any criteria for expansion that would lead us down a path where we contribute to increasing conflict in the global community or in any part of the world,” Pandor added.

She noted that BRICS officials and foreign ministers had been working on the criteria for membership and after a final meeting of the foreign ministers on 12 August would draft recommendations to be considered by the BRICS leaders at the summit. 

Pandor confirmed that China’s President Xi would pay a state visit to South Africa while he was in the country for the summit. She added that arrangements for another BRICS leader also to have a state or official visit at the time of the summit were still being finalised. She did not say if this would be Modi or Lula. 

She also noted that IBSA — the India, Brazil, South Africa bloc — would not meet on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, as it has often done in the past. It would meet instead on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September. 

And Pandor said the BRICS Business Council and BRICS Women’s Business Alliance would also meet before the summit and present reports to the summit leaders who would all be accompanied by large business delegations.

She noted that BRICS leading emerging markets and developing countries represented about 42% of the world’s population, almost 30% of the world’s territory, about 27% of global GDP and about 20% of international trade.

She said the International Monetary Fund had calculated that in purchasing power parity terms, the combined BRICS economy had a larger share of global economic activity than that of the G7 group of industrialised nations. 

“This is not to say there is competition between us. But it is a clear demonstration of the need for BRICS countries, countries of the Global South, countries of Africa, to be listened to, heard and respected in global economic, financial and global governance.” 

The minister said under the theme “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism”, the BRICS leaders would discuss how to realise the potential of BRICS for “inclusive global economic recovery and sustainable development, strengthening mutually beneficial partnerships with Africa and the Global South in a multipolar world, deepening and strengthening progressive multilateralism and delivering meaningful global governance reform as well as addressing the marginalisation of women in peace processes and fostering an environment of peace and development.” DM

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