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Differences on Brazil's Iran engagement

Differences on Brazil's Iran engagement
By Gabriel Elizondo

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is making a visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran on May 15-17 for meetings with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others. The trip comes on the heels of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brasilia in November of last year.

Lula has been outspoken in his belief that Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear energy, and his desire that the international community avoid new sanctions against Iran. Lula’s trip to Tehran could represent for the international community its last, best shot at a negotiated solution before the UN takes up a vote on new sanctions.

Brazil is taking a leading diplomatic role in a dicey international issue that sits outside its normal sphere of diplomatic influence.

That has also caused a debate of sorts in Brazil, between those who think the country has no interest engaging with Iran in such a high profile manner. And, on the other hand, those who support Lula’s efforts.

I recently interviewed two Brazilian political thinkers with vastly differing opinions on the fundamental question: Brazil's diplomatic engagement with Iran. Is it good for Brazil? Or bad? Here is what they had to say, in their own words.

Against Brazilian engagement with Iran


Professor at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil. Professor of history, social sciences, and an international political analyst. 

“It is not positive for Brazil to have relations with Iran. It’s one thing to defend the interest of peace, democracy, and human rights. That is a historical obligation that is in the Brazilian Constitution. But human rights and democracy do not exist in Iran. The elections were flawed, opposition members were arrested, and some even killed. Brazil was quiet about it. The interest instead with Brazil was with establishing a diplomatic and economic relation with Iranians which I find wrong because it should not be a priority for us.”

“We are getting involved in a conflict that has no historical relation with Brazil, no geo-political interest, and no economic interest, since Iran is not one of our major trading partners. There is no evident reason why we are involved with Iran.”

“The only possibly reason for engagement with Iran is a personal interest from the Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In 2011, after the end of his presidential term, he wants to be nominated to a high position in an international organization like the UN or FAO. We all know it’s his dream to be secretary general of the United Nations. So he is using Brazilian foreign policy to his personal advantage, to raise his profile, and possibly gains votes from Arab countries and countries friendly to Iran. I find that very grave, because never before in Brazilian history a president has used Brazilian diplomacy for personal interests”

“What could happen is that the tension between Iran and the international community increases, as everything seems to indicate that new sanctions against Iran can be approved, possibly with Chinese support. And the Brazilians are going to get burned by this. This could be a historic defeat to Brazilian diplomacy that has a tradition of excellence.”

Supports Brazilian engagement with Iran


Former Brazilian ambassador to the European Union and previously the Chief Negotiator of Brazil’s foreign debt for the Ministry of Economy. 

“The world does not have an interest in a nuclearized Iran, but it also does not serve the international community to exacerbate the conflict that can lead to an increase in the instability in the region. The Iranian regime has the support of almost all the population for its position regarding this (nuclear) question, which is why external pressure could be used as an internal ends, lowering the impact of the protests on the street like in the last elections.”

“Sanctions never work in any place, ever – take for example Cuba or North Korea – the sanctions only serve to provoke a still stronger reactions of the population effected."

“From this premises, I believe that all attempts by Brazil at a negotiated solution with Iran are justified. The United States has burned their possibility to conduct positive negotiations with Iran because of (the United States) imposing attitude. Russia and China prefer to sit on the fence, and can not escape all the American pressures because they have been essentially been boxed in by the Americans.  The Secretary General of the UN does not even have the power to negotiate a discount in buying a carpet in a Middle East market, let alone playing a role in the Iran nuclear question.”

“In this vacuum that was created, an exceptional space opened up for Brazil to exercise our just-fortified diplomatic capacity - despite the pessimistic Brazilians who prefer to always hide underneath the skirt of the United States. For this reason, Brazil is ready to safeguard its principle: She is absolutely against the war-like use of nuclear energy, our Constitution says as much, and will fulfill eventual sanctions against Iran if they are adopted in the UN. These points are important, and are arguments often ignored by Brazil’s critics. Thus, everything depends on Iran. If they really want to go down the path of manufacturing a bomb, Brazil will turn their backs on them. But Brazil will have been left with the good image because she at least tried to work out a negotiated solution. If Iran agrees to the exchange with Turkey (negotiated with Brazil), Brazil will gain great prestige and practically guarantee itself a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. And, remember, Lula is a top candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in the coming year. So the question is not why should Brazil engage Iran, the question is why not?”

“In short, despite the crying of the traditional opponents, I see Brazil’s engagement with Iran as a win-win situation for Brazilian diplomacy. But it is evident that the ‘old boys’ are inconvenienced by this new kid who has arrived on the block and who is not asking for permission to use the bathroom.”

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