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President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from Brazil and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad from Iran. What is this – the new axis of evil? No – Luladinejad is a new axis of business.
As Ahmadinejad was coming from a visit to the Brazilian parliament in Brasilia on Monday, Lula was waiting for him, virtually alone. The embrace by Lula was sudden, spontaneous, extremely warm; it’s fair to assume Ahmadinejad was not expecting it. Those who saw it interpreted it as a graphic message.
Ahmadinejad did mean business: he traveled with 200 Iranian businessmen. In the long run, Brazil wants to export to Iran not only meat, grains and sugar, but also trucks and buses. And Iran wants to invest heavily in the oil industry, petrochemicals, agriculture, minerals and real estate. Lula will visit Iran in March or April 2010, also with a business caravan.
Lula and Ahmadinejad signed agreements on energy, trade and agricultural research in the latest round of what is becoming an increasingly warm embrace between Latin America and the Middle East.
The meat of the matter was, of course, nuclear energy. US President Barack Obama admitted at the Group of 20 gathering in London this year that Lula “is the man” – and opinion polls back him up, with the Brazilian leader at present the world’s most popular political leader, with an approval rating of 79%; Obama has just slipped below 50%. So what is “the man” saying? He’s saying that Brazil supports Iran’s access to “peaceful nuclear energy”.
When Lula talks, world leaders do listen; nor is he shy about running through a roll call of those he “advises” on how to behave with Iran.
“I told Obama, I told [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy, I told [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel that we will not get good things out of Iran if we corner them. You need to create space to talk.” This is not only Lula talking – it’s BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) talk. Carefully balancing his act, Lula at the same time defended the rights of “a safe and secure state of Israel”.
Lula’s key formula regarding the Iranian nuclear dossier is “nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament must walk side-by-side”. For Brazil and the other BRIC countries, – it’s the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that should solve the Iranian nuclear dossier, not the United Nations Security Council.
Brazil, which holds the seventh-largest uranium reserves in the world, enriches uranium for its own nuclear energy program, and no one is accusing it of building a nuclear bomb. Brazilian foreign policy has always been strongly against unilateral sanctions on Iran. In Lula’s words, “It’s simple. What we advocate for us, we advocate for others as well.”
Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly referred to Lula as “my friend”, sang in tune. He even admitted on Brazilian TV that Iran and Brazil, “… can build partnerships to build nuclear plants.” Or as the headline splashed on the cover of Tuesday’s edition of the Tehran-based Iran Daily newspaper proclaimed, “Nuclear Cooperation Possible With Brazil”.
Let’s play ball
Ahmadinejad’s whirlwind tour of five countries in Africa and South America – Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Evo Morales’ Bolivia are included in the itinerary – means South America especially is seen as a business escape route for Iran do dodge more Western sanctions. For the leadership in Tehran – the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Ahmadinejad political faction – Brazil is now regarded as a business partner and as a strategic partner.
This is South-South dialogue in action, multipolar world style. Iran sees Brazil as a possible mediator vis-a-vis its intractable problems with the United States and Europe. Brazil for its part wants a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (Iran supports it) and more than welcomes more “soft power” influence in the Middle East.
Iran is not as “isolated” as Western propaganda would like people to believe. For instance, Iran is very much alert to preserving its rights in the Caspian Sea, it is advancing its energy deals with China, and it is busy changing from dollars to euros.
Right in the middle of a non-stop demonization campaign of Ahmadinejad as the “new Hitler” – after Saddam Hussein’s demise – it would be naive to expect Western corporate media to pay attention to what Ahmadinejad actually said in Brazil – that Iran is definitely willing to buy enriched uranium abroad – but the country won’t allow suppliers to set the terms. Referring to the latest IAEA plan to defuse the Iranian nuclear power stand-off, under which Iran would send the bulk of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be further processed for use in a medical reactor in Tehran, Ahmadinejad said “no independent country would accept this proposal”.
So the key question now to be debated under the deal brokered by IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, and Iran, is about the volume of enriched uranium that should leave Iran for Russia, and then to France, and then return to Iran as nuclear fuel. Iran is not completely satisfied this is a 100% guaranteed deal.
Ahmadinejad made a startling admission at his press conference in Brazil. He said, “We have the conditions to enrich uranium at 20% and we have the legal right to do it. But to create an atmosphere of cooperation, we are ready to buy nuclear fuel.”
Even before the Luladinejad get-together, US corporate media had hit the hysteria button, warning that Lula “may lose global influence” (Los Angeles Times) just by talking to Ahmadinejad, and warning that the meeting would “chill Brazil’s relations with the US and damage its growing reputation as a global power” (New York Times).
They still don’t get it.
Obama for his part sent a letter to Lula reminding him of Washington’s deep mistrust of Iran. Lula will place a call to Obama to discuss his meeting with Ahmadinejad. It would be quite absurd for Lula to take morality lessons from Washington, given that the US has reactivated its Fourth Fleet, is it announced early last year (the fleet covers the waters around the Caribbean, and Central and South America), plans to deploy a new set of military bases in Colombia, and hardly condemned the June military coup in Honduras.
The fact is the Middle East is coming to Brazil. Former Moldovan bouncer Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, was in Brazil and Argentina four months ago. Israeli President Shimon Peres was there last week. Same with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. Translation: Brazil, as one of the key emerging actors in the global South, along with the other BRIC countries, may have a much more balanced shot at global diplomacy than the heavy-handed US and Europe.
Doing things the Brazilian way involves a certified amount of swing. For example, during his radio show this past weekend, Lula even proposed a soccer match next March between Brazil – favorites to win next summer’s World Cup – and a mixed Israeli-Palestinian team. So what if the UN takes a cue from Lula, and sponsors a tournament including the UN-5 – the US, Russia, China, France and Britain – plus Germany, plus Brazil and Iran? Remember those Cold War days when ping-pong politics broke the ice between the US and China? Seriously, maybe the time is now for some real political soccer.