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November 24, 2009

Lula and Ahmadinejad

By Spear's

What’s Lula up to by hosting and defending such a global enfant terrible? Same as always, in a word: power.

There they were, brothers-in-arms, Brazil’s President Luís Inacio Lula da Silva and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Holding each other with one arm and waving at the crowds and the cameras with the other, they declared each other “good friends.”

Ahmadinejad arrived in Brasilia today with a delegation of Iranian business leaders to sign accords on electric energy and agriculture and meet Brazilian business leaders. The summit was originally scheduled for May, but was postponed due to the upcoming (and later controversial) elections in Iran that took place in June. 

After the summit meeting, Lula used the press conference to defend Iran’s “sovereign right to develop peaceful nuclear energy,” “with complete respect to international agreements.” Ahmadinejad again asserted that Iran’s sole interest is in nuclear energy, not weapons, though the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) remains skeptical. “Brazil dreams of a Middle East without nuclear weapons,” stated Lula in a veiled dig at Israel and by extension to the US. Ahmadinejad followed suit by asserting that “Brazil and Iran want a world free of weapons of mass destruction.”

So what’s really going on here? What’s Lula up to by hosting and defending such a global enfant terrible? Same as always, in a word: power.

Lula is a pragmatist. For all of his leftist rhetoric he has aggressively pursued strategic business interests, whether in exploring the Tupi oil fields, promoting ethanol development, participating in the South-South Dialogue with South Africa and India and the G20, of which Brazil is now a key member. 

Now Lula has a new goal: a permanent seat for Brazil on the UN Security Council. So he needs to flex his international diplomatic muscles and prove his worth by offering an alternative approach to global problems, making himself indispensable. 

This is why he begged to differ with the US policy of isolating Iran, arguing at the press conference that engaging Iran would yield far better results. He also urged the UN to help negotiate a peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians, effectively taking the matter out of US hands in favor of a more multilateral approach.

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Lula’s all about thinking outside the box in Middle East affairs these days. Earlier this month he received both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and today he also announced his intention to hold a soccer “match for peace” at a “neutral” stadium. Given the global appeal of soccer, this is not a bad idea. Hey, the traditional approaches have all failed, so why not indeed?

But don’t expect such innovative and practical approaches at Ahmadinejad’s South American meetings later in the week in Venezuela and Bolivia, Iran’s greatest allies in the region. There we can expect lots of fiery anti-Americanism (rather than Lula’s more underhanded marginalization of the US), as well as the signing of accords for the transfer of fisal (nuclear) material from Iran to Venezuela and Bolivia.

And that should worry everyone a lot more than Lula’s quest for global economic and diplomatic standing, as he wouldn’t risk alienating the US and the rest of the international community with a real quest for nuclear weapons, the way Chávez and Morales would. After all, Lula is nothing if not practical.

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