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Exclusive-Saudi Arabia still considering BRICS membership

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Saudi Arabia is still considering an invitation to become a member of the BRICS bloc of countries after being asked to join by the grouping last year, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia's consideration of membership comes against a backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China and Russia © Mena Today 

Saudi Arabia is still considering an invitation to become a member of the BRICS bloc of countries after being asked to join by the grouping last year, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

The group had in August invited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iran, Argentina, and Ethiopia to join starting Jan. 1, although Argentina signalled it would not take up the invitation in November. The two sources said Jan. 1 was not a deadline for a decision, with one adding there were strong benefits to joining the bloc as members China and India are the kingdom's biggest trading partners.

"Saudi Arabia is assessing the benefits and then will make a decision, there is a process happening," one of the sources said.

The expansion of the group would add economic heft to the BRICS, whose current members are China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa. It could also amplify its declared ambition to become a champion of the Global South.

Saudi Arabia's consideration of membership comes against a backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China and Russia, and as the kingdom's warming ties with Beijing have caused concern in Washington.

Despite continued strong ties with the U.S., Saudi Arabia has increasingly pursued its own path out of concern that Washington is less committed to the Gulf's security than in the past.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's minister of commerce stated that Saudi Arabia had not joined the BRICs in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, without elaborating.

Following the minister's statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that integrating Saudi Arabia into the BRICs bloc was very important work that was continuing on Wednesday.

Saudi state TV reported earlier this month that the kingdom had joined the bloc, only to remove the reports from its social media accounts later.

Fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member, the UAE, said it had accepted the invitation and joined the bloc, according to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Its decision was based on economic considerations and not political ones, Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq al Marri said on Thursday.

"We are not living in a cold war ... joining the BRICs is not from a political stance, it's from an economic stance," Marri said in a session at Davos.

“Yes polarisation has happened, it’s unprecedented since the 1980s, but the joining of BRICs is more of a south-south agenda ... the UAE will always engage the West."

Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Dmitry Zhdannikov; additional reporting by Pesha Magid and Rachna Uppal Rachna Uppal

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