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Brazil and Iran

Photo-- Fernando Bizerra Jr./European Pressphoto Agency

Photo-- Fernando Bizerra Jr./European Pressphoto Agency

Troubling.

The New York Times reports:

As leaders from Brazil and Iran met here on Monday, the Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, defended his decision to play host to the Iranian president at a moment of rising tension over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In his national radio show, Mr. da Silva said that “you don’t move forward by leaving Iran isolated.”

“If Iran is an important actor in this discord, then it is important that someone sits with Iran, talks with Iran and tries to establish a balancing point, so that society returns to a certain normality in the Middle East,” he said, in remarks before the meeting.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is making his first state visit to Brazil on Monday, arriving as Iran, the United States and other powers are engaged in fraught negotiations over an agreement to ship Iran’s nuclear fuel abroad.

The meeting between the two men signals Brazil’s ambitions to become a bigger player in global diplomacy, but it has sparked protests from some members of the United States Congress and former Brazilian diplomats, who have said the occasion would legitimize Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government.

Mr. da Silva, who received Israeli and Palestinian leaders this month, also said on Monday that he would visit the Middle East next March. He said he had already confirmed the visit with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

In his radio program, Mr. da Silva also said he wanted to organize a soccer “match for peace” pitting a team of Israeli and Palestinian players against the Brazilian national team. He said he had dreamed of hosting the soccer match for three years, and would hold it in a “neutral” stadium.

“I think it would be an extraordinary coup for Brazil and, above all, a very important signal for peace,” Mr. da Silva said.

The Brazilian president said the United Nations should help negotiate a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Those people are tied of war, they are tired of death, they are tired of attacks,” he said.

Since his election in 2002, Mr. da Silva has sought to cement Brazil’s dominance as Latin America’s economic and diplomatic leader, using its economic might to raise Brazil’s foreign-policy profile.

Mr. da Silva’s government has also lobbied for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and has become a respected voice in world climate change discussions. In recent months, he has added Middle Eastern diplomacy to his portfolio.

Stilly, many critics do not see Mr. Ahmadinejad — who has denied the Holocaust, called for Israel to be wiped off the map and backs anti-Israel militias — as a constructive force in the Middle East.

More than 1,500 people protested his visit this month in São Paulo, home to Brazil’s largest Jewish community, and a smaller protest took place on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro. Outside the Foreign Ministry on Monday, fewer than 100 protesters yelled “Get out! Get out!”

A statement released by the Foreign Ministry on Monday pointed out that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the first Iranian president to visit Brazil, and said that 200 businesspeople from Iran and Brazil would take part in a closing ceremony after the meeting.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.