By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva arrived in Jerusalem last Sunday, the first time the country’s head of state has visited Israel. While warm words of bilateral cooperation and welcome were exchanged in the media, Lula and Brazil are expected to face criticism and requests for explanation over the country’s refusal to denounce Iran, as well as a perceived prior ‘negative’ diplomatic attitude toward Israel.
President Lula will be received in Jerusalem for a few days, before his party moves on to meetings with counterparts in Jordan and Palestine. Lula said in November that he would like Brazil, as a country of increasing global influence, to play a more important role in the Middle East peace process, a sentiment that was reiterated ahead of his arrival in Jerusalem. The meeting is a reciprocation of the visit by Israeli president Shimon Peres late last year.
Worldwide media, particularly in the west, have expressed confusion at Brazil’s perceived ‘buddying up’ with Iran, in light of President Lula’s popularity in diplomatic circles, and his nation’s growing importance on the world stage. In an editorial piece appearing in the Miami Herald, one commentator called Brazil’s position on the issue “dangerously obtuse and unworthy of a country that aspires to be considered an equal among the world’s leaders.”
The issue has dogged the Brazilian President of late, especially following a one day visit recently by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. As expected, Clinton’s appeal to Brazil to join the community of nations that have signed up to impose trade sanctions on Iran was firmly rebuffed, and the issue took the spotlight entirely from any other matters that were discussed. In addition, Lula’s administration have refused to condemn Iran’s human rights record, which is adding impetus to the perception that Brazil creating distance from the West.
Some pundits have however wondered whether Brazil’s stance could not rather be seen as a defensive move, rather than stubbornness. Some have pointed out that Brazil is still a nation relatively new to security diplomacy, and that the country has stayed quiet on most issues since becoming a member of the international security council. It’s also noted that no alternate plan has been forthcoming from Brazilian authorities in dealing with Iran.
President Lula, at a media conference with Mrs. Clinton, said “I just don’t think it is prudent to push Iran up against the wall. What I want for Iran is what I want for Brazil: the use and development of nuclear energy for peaceful ends. If Iran is in agreement with that, it can count on Brazilian support. If it wants to go beyond that, Iran will be doing something that is expressly prohibited in the Brazilian constitution. And that is something we cannot agree with.”
Some commentators have offered further that Brazil’s own experience as an ostracized nuclear power may have bearing on their Iran position. In the 1970’s the nation’s military dictatorship ignored concern coming from the US and enriched uranium for power generation.