On Tehran visit, Brazil backs Iran nuclear fuel swap

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim pushed Tuesday for an Iran nuclear fuel swap deal during a visit to Tehran. But Brazil's resistance to US pressure for UN sanctions on Iran might backfire.

By , Staff writer

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    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, listens to Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday. An unidentified interpreter sits at center.
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Brazil’s foreign minister, on a visit to Tehran, said Tuesday that he hopes an Iran nuclear fuel swap deal could be revived to end ambiguities about Iran’s nuclear intentions.

“Iran should have nuclear activities for peaceful purposes …," Celso Amorim said at a press conference Tuesday. “There is no political consensus that Iran has to be isolated or for Brazil to move in that direction.”

The visit by Mr. Amorim, which paves the way for a state visit by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva next month, comes as the US is pushing for a new round of United Nations sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program.

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Brazil has resisted US pressure to back sanctions, including during a trip to Brazil by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month. And as a temporary member of the UN Security Council with growing economic and political ties to Iran, Brazil may be keen to see what kind of deals can be worked out with the Islamic Republic.

Amorim's words in Tehran also belie President Lula's desire for Brazil to maximize its new clout on the world stage, refusing to choose sides or bow to pressure from traditional powers.

Brazil argues that isolating Tehran is likely to backfire by prompting Iran to cease any semblance of cooperation with the West.

But many analysts say that the Latin American giant's position of support for Iran might be the one to backfire by straining its relationship with the US.

“[President] Lula has made a big effort to be more relevant in the international arena. His position has to be understood in that framework,” says Roberto Izurieta, a Latin America expert at George Washington University in Washington. “But Brazil has more to lose than to gain. The majority of Brazilians don’t care, and the few that care want Brazil out of trouble.”

Brazil's rise

Lula’s two terms have coincided with Brazil’s rise, with oil finds that could turn it into a major oil exporter and a healthy economy fueled by booming domestic demand.

Lula has taken a leadership role in the so-called “south-south” dialogue among the world's developing nations.

He recently hosted the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – and has led the fight for a greater voice for developing nations in the World Trade Organization.

Last month, Brazil signed a landmark military agreement with the US.

Ties to Iran

Lula’s relationship with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes as Iran has sought closer ties to Latin America over the past few years, most notably with Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Marifeli Perez-Stable, a non-resident senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, wrote in a recent Miami Herald opinion piece that Iran’s presence in the region is most worrisome with Venezuela.

“Venezuela and Brazil represent two different approaches to Iran: one ideological, the other pragmatic," she writes. "Tehran is courting both in an all-out diplomatic initiative against the isolation that the United States in particular seeks. Iran revels in unnerving Washington in its own backyard.”

On Monday, Ahmadinejad compared the Security Council and its veto rights “to satanic tools,” according to state media.

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, meanwhile, said Monday officials at the UN were working daily to draft possible penalties against Iran “as rapidly as possible.”

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