New York Times: When the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, went to Tehran two weeks ago, he was hoping to defuse a seemingly intractable crisis over Iran’s nuclear program and cement his reputation as an international statesman.
The New York Times
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
SÃO PAULO — When the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, went to Tehran two weeks ago, he was hoping to defuse a seemingly intractable crisis over Iran’s nuclear program and cement his reputation as an international statesman.
But after Brazil and Turkey forged a deal with Iran to exchange uranium, Mr. da Silva returned home to a cloud of criticism by opinion-makers and lawmakers who questioned whether the mission had been naïve, or worse, detrimental to the nation’s standing.
Some argued that Iran had used him to stall for more time to develop nuclear arms. Others fretted that he had damaged Brazil’s relationship with the United States, and that its own nuclear program could now come under greater scrutiny by atomic energy regulators.
What could have been one of Mr. da Silva’s crowning achievements as president of a country ascending on the global stage was being characterized as a misstep that could dent the legacy of the popular president.
“The most charitable interpretation is that we were naïve,” said Amaury de Souza, a political analyst in Rio de Janeiro. But “in a game like this, being labeled naïve just shows you have a third-rate diplomacy.”
Brazil and Turkey helped broker an agreement under which Iran agreed to send uranium enriched at a low level abroad, reviving parts of a fuel swap plan proposed in October. But despite the deal, Iranian officials said they planned to continue enriching uranium.
Brazilian officials claimed to be caught flat-footed by that statement, dismissing it as pandering to Iran’s domestic constituency.
Washington quickly rejected the deal as a delaying tactic, and the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members agreed on a draft resolution for new sanctions against Iran.
But Brazilian officials have continued to vigorously defend the accord, with the nation’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, saying Friday that it was not too late. “Many things still need to happen,” he told reporters. “It’s difficult, but there is a way out.”
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that his country had officially notified the agency about the nuclear agreement with a letter on Monday.
“We expect to turn from a course of confrontation to cooperation and come to a negotiating table,” he said in an interview.
Brazilian officials have called the negative response by American officials hypocritical. An adviser to Mr. da Silva said Monday that in the days leading up to Mr. da Silva’s trip to Iran, President Obama sent a letter to the Brazilian leader outlining “various points that were very similar to what ended up in the agreement.”
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said Monday that Iran moving forward on the deal with Brazil and Turkey could be a step toward a negotiated settlement. But the basic problem, he said, was the lack of confidence on both sides.
If Western powers continue to dismiss the deal, the repercussions could be serious for Brazil’s reputation, political analysts said, with some warning that it could invite further scrutiny of Brazil’s own nuclear program.
Brazil, with France’s assistance, is building a nuclear-powered submarine. It is widely recognized as abiding by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, allowing regular inspections by the I.A.E.A., and the nation prohibited the development of nuclear weapons in its most recent constitution. But Brazil has refused to sign an additional protocol of the treaty that would allow for more intrusive inspections.
Even before Mr. da Silva’s visit to Tehran, a former foreign minister, Luiz Felipe Lampreia, said the efforts at diplomacy with Iran could “cause incalculable material and political losses” and raise suspicions about Brazil’s own nuclear program.
“It is like the person who crosses the street on purpose to step on a banana peel on the opposite sidewalk,” Mr. Lampreia wrote in the newspaper O Globo.
It did not help that after the signing in Tehran, Brazil’s vice president, José Alencar, restated a position he has taken before: that Brazil should have the right to develop a nuclear weapon as an “instrument of dissuasion.”
Despite the concerns, many Brazilians noted that Mr. da Silva had taken the international stage and waded into a top priority of the American agenda.
“President Lula ignored the critics and decided Brazil had as much right and legitimate interests to engage in this issue as the U.S. and other major players,” said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Brazil’s attempts to win over the Iranians have not always played well at home. After Brazil’s minister of commerce jovially offered the yellow jersey of Brazil’s national soccer team to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran last month, Clóvis Rossi, a respected columnist, wrote that the Brazilian jersey was “covered in blood” from Iranian dissidents killed by the Islamic government.
But many Brazilians seem proud to see Mr. da Silva mixing with world leaders. A poll in March by CNI/Ipope found that 48 percent of Brazilians polled remembered nothing specific about what he was doing. But 46 percent recalled his trips abroad.
Mr. Sotero said Mr. da Silva’s legacy is most likely assured. But as for ties between Brazil and the United States, “We won’t know the extent of the damage to the bilateral relationship for a while.”
Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from New York.