Left to right, President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a BRICS family photo during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 24 (UPI) -- The five-member BRICS group on Thursday invited oil-producing giant Saudi Arabia and regional rival Iran to join their organization in what is being seen as a challenge to the Western economic powers.
BRICS -- which includes Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa -- wrapped up its summit in Johannesburg by announcing its membership expansion.
Along with Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC, and Iran, others invited are Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates. Membership would not start until 2024.
"This membership expansion is historic," Chinese President Xi Jinping, said. "It shows the determination of BRICS countries for unity and cooperation for the broader developing world."
The addition brings together more countries that the United States and Western Europe have isolated. Current member Russia has suffered from Western sanctions because of its invasion of Ukraine. Iran has faced pressure over its nuclear program.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have appeared to soften their relations recently after supporting surrogates in the long-running civil war in Yemen.
"BRICS is a diverse group of nations," South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said. "It is an equal partnership of countries that have differing views but a shared vision for a better world.
"As the five BRICS members, we have reached an agreement on the guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures of the BRICS expansion process."
Most notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin declined to attend in person, likely because of an International Criminal Court warrant that would have theoretically obliged the host country South Africa -- an ICC signatory -- to arrest him.
Putin hinted in a video message that the development of a common currency would be on its way, a challenge to the U.S. dollar and the euro.
"I would like to assure all our colleagues that we will continue the work that we started today on expanding the influence of BRICS in the world," Putin said.
"[By that] I mean establishing practical work with new members and with those who will work in the BRICS outreach with our partners and would like to work with us."
He said that developing a common currency would be a "difficult question" but continued, "We will move toward solving these problems."