Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s controversial visit to Brazil further underscored the independence of this country’s diplomacy, and gave Tehran a chance to defend its points of view on the construction of a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Ahmadinejad’s one-day trip to Brasilia Monday was the third visit to Brazil by a Middle Eastern leader in two weeks. Earlier this month, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, and a few days ago he hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The flurry of high-level visits was one more show of Brazil’s growing role in international diplomacy.
But unlike the first two visits, which drew little attention from the media and scant interest from the public, Ahmadinejad’s has sparked controversy both in and outside Brazil, and was closely tracked by the international press.
Protests were held in Rio de Janeiro Sunday by representatives of the Jewish community, women’s groups and organisations of gays complaining about the lack of respect for human rights in Iran and Tehran’s policy towards Israel.
And during the Iranian leader’s visit to Brasilia, the Brazilian Jewish Community held a march protesting his presence, while the Brazilian Palestinian Society and the Direct Democracy Movement held demonstrations in support of his trip.
The controversy and the interest with which every detail of Ahmadinejad’s meetings with Brazilian officials — including a three-hour talk behind closed doors with Lula, and a visit to Congress — was followed confirm the importance that both countries have on the regional and global fronts.
The most concrete result of the visit was the signing of eight cooperation agreements in areas like science, technology, agriculture and industry, which reflect the desire of both Brazil and Iran to strengthen South-South cooperation and increase bilateral trade, which currently stands at around two billion dollars, while the goal is to raise that amount to 10 billion dollars in the near future.
Some 200 business leaders accompanied Ahmadinejad on his visit.
But the less tangible results of the Iranian leader’s visit to Brazil may be the most significant.
In first place, the visit made it clear that both Brazil and Iran are keen on playing a more active role on the world stage, based on each nation’s clout in their specific areas of influence.
The heir to the Persian empire, Iran enjoys significant territorial, linguistic and cultural cohesion, added to its abundant natural resources and considerable technological development — it launched a domestically made satellite in 2008, and 48 percent of the population has access to the internet — all of which give it a strong sense of national pride and a central role in Middle Eastern geopolitics.
Brazil, for its part, buoyed up by strong economic indicators, besides its position as Latin America’s giant, has expanded its influence on the international scene.
In South America, in particular, it has consolidated its leadership, fuelling the regional integration process by means of political, economic and infrastructure initiatives during Lula’s nearly seven years in office.
Despite criticism of the visit by several major local media outlets and opposition leaders and lawmakers, the Brazilian government went ahead with the invitation to Ahmadinejad, thus reinforcing the independence that has marked its diplomacy on earlier occasions.
The president himself repeatedly defended the visit saying that peace cannot be built in the Middle East without talking with all political and religious factions. In his opinion, if dialogue only took place between politically aligned countries, the conversation would be restricted to a “club of friends” which would fail to lay the foundations for real peace in the region.
During the recent visits by Middle Eastern leaders, Lula took the opportunity to state that he believed that key to peace in the region was the emergence of a viable and dignified sovereign Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel, and recognising its right to exist.
He also emphasised nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and said he backed Iran’s right to develop the peaceful use of nuclear energy, just as Brazil has done.
For his part, Ahmadinejad declared his support for Brazil’s aspiration to becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
He expressed that support during a visit to the Brazilian Congress, where he explicitly acknowledged the Holocaust, placing controversial earlier remarks on the subject in a broader context.
The Iranian leader said Palestinians should not have to pay for an error that occurred on European soil, and asked whether Brazilians would give up their territory for crimes committed in another part of the world.
According to Ahmadinejad, the Palestinian question has not yet been solved because the peace proposals formulated by the U.N. Security Council for the region have not been based on a sense of justice.
That was another reason, he said, for Iran’s backing for Brazil’s aspiration to a permanent seat on the Security Council, where — he argued — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States should be stripped of their veto power.
From that key position in the global body, Brazilian diplomacy could play a positive role in peace initiatives, he said.
Only the future will tell whether the results that both governments hope for from the heightened cooperation will be forthcoming. If they are, not only the economic ties between Brazil and Iran will be strengthened, but the Lula administration will begin to play a more decisive role in peace efforts in the Middle East.
That would be welcomed by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, as indicated by the recent visits by Peres and Abbas.
This article was published by Inter Press Service on 24 November 2009; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes. En español: “BRASIL-IRÁN: Nuevo impulso a la diplomacia Sur-Sur.”