By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Protests on the streets of Brazil continued in Sao Paulo and Rio, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a warm welcome from President Lula as he arrived for his first state visit to the country on Monday as part of a controversial South America tour.
US and Brazilian relations have continued to cool since the “This is the man” comment by Barack Obama toward Lula earlier in the year, and the latest move by the Brazilian President to enhance his global diplomatic status is causing consternation in many quarters.
Ahmadinejad’s presence appears to further legitimize his controversial re-election in July in the eyes of US commentators. It was his 64% approval that caused many US and European commentators to raise the alarm at alleged voting irregularities. Even then Brazil, India, Russia and China were among those States to offer their swift congratulations, further serving to underline the changing balance of world democratic ties.
The Iranian President has repeatedly condemned the United States and the UK for anti-Islamism, and reportedly denied the holocaust in his verbal attacks on Israel, though he has strenuously refuted any claims of antisemitism in his views. Whether or not President Lula will be able to add anything to the cauldron of opinion and polemic remains to be seen, however, and he tread carefully throughout the pair’s meetings with the press, only going so far as to defend Iran’s rights to use nuclear energy for peaceful ends.
It is the future business and commercial aspirations of the two countries that Lula preferred to focus on, but with Ahmadinejad only in the country for one day before moving on to Venezuela and then Bolivia, it was more the image of the two leaders in a warm embrace than anything that was agreed which will stay in the mind.
A member of the Revolutionary Guard after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Ahmadinejad reportedly worked in covert operations during the conflict with Iraq in the 1980s. His political career began at the end of the decade, and by 2003 he became Mayor of Tehran. In 2005 he ran for President and won with a populist approach and the backing of influential conservatives, before undoing much of the reformist work that his predecessors had put into place.
Where this meeting will leave Brazil’s long-held aspirations for a seat on the UN Security Council is unclear. Iran’s stance has long been one of suspicion of the United Nations, and it will be interesting to see whether Lula’s meeting with the man behind that position helps or hinders that progress.