Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—one of Time Magazine’s newly-named most influential people in the world—will travel to Iran next week for what have become regular meetings with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The leaders are sure to discuss the month-long UN conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that began yesterday in New York, their countries’ growing commercial relationship, and ways that Brazil’s emergent roll as an arbiter between Iran and the West can advance their mutual interests.
Overall, Lula’s efforts to expand Brazil’s clout on the world stage have been characterized by refusals to choose sides in historic disputes or submit to pressure from major powers like the United States. His approach to international relations seems rooted in efforts to engage all parties as equals, while avoiding tough subjects like Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Russian authoritarianism or Cuba’s human rights record. The hope might be that by maintaining neutrality in the short term—while simultaneously expanding trade and investment ties to its less savory allies—Brazil’s access to and presumed influence over key foreign leaders will make it a channel through which to conduct sensitive diplomatic negotiations.
What has this strategy achieved? Well, it has definitely generated a lot of news. From Israel to Iran, India to China, Cuba to Russia, Lula’s globetrotting has produced intense media coverage and the belief in many circles that Brazil is a rising power. It’s resistance to U.S. pressure to support stronger sanctions against Iran—even during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Brazil in March—certainly drew the ire of the U.S. foreign policy community and made him a hero among those who disagree with the U.S. approach.
But, what about the bigger picture?
Have the Iranians halted their nuclear programs or submitted to unfettered international inspections? No. Has Cuba improved its human rights record? Não. Israeli-Palestinian peace? Keep dreaming. If Lula really wants the world to believe that next week’s abraços with an Iranian tyrant are motivated by anything other than pure national self interest, it’s time for him to actually achieve something for the greater good.
Here’s one idea.
Remember those three American hikers from Berkeley who were arrested in July 2009 when they foolhardily strayed into Iranian territory while hiking in Kurdistan? Their names are Shane Bauer, 27, Joshua Fattal, 27, and Sarah Shourd, 31 and the State Department reported last week that two of them are ill in prison in Tehran. It’s time for Lula to bring them home.
This is a very real possibility for a few reasons...
In preparation for today’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva declared it unacceptable that “some countries are allowed to be armed to the teeth while other are left unarmed.” The president also said in an interview with El País that he planned to ask tough questions about the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by the U.S. and Russia. Lula said he wanted to be clear on what exactly is being dismantled, stating that it makes no sense to deactivate weapons that may already be outdated.
Lula defended broader talks with Iran, a country not invited to the summit, stating it is crucial that “the Iranians know they can enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.” He said it is “understandable” that Iran would want to develop atomic weapons because it feels threatened by Pakistan and Israel.
Brazil is currently a member of the U.N. Security Council and opposes the imposition of sanctions on Iran. Lula plans to make an official visit to Iran in May.