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Terrorism & Security

Brazil visit to Iran: 'last chance' before new round of sanctions?

Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visits Tehran this weekend in what both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and a senior US State Department official have characterized as the 'last chance' before a new round of sanctions on Iran.

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In an interview with the Financial Times, US Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon said it was "very positive" that Brazil was stepping up to the world diplomatic stage, but that “as Brazil becomes more assertive globally and begins to assert its influence, we are going to bump into Brazil on new issues and in new places – such as Iran, the Middle East, Haiti.”

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Lula warmly hosted Ahmadinejad in Brasília in a visit in November, which was greeted both by protests and a displays of support for the Iranian president, The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time. Even if Lula is looking to be a negotiator in the Middle East, Ahmadinejad, in a November interview with the Brazilian media conglomerate O Globo, seemed to be hoping for more than a mediator. His responses to questions posed in English were then translated into Portuguese subtitles:

"Iran and Brazil ... can work together to help create a new international order," Ahmadinejad then said.

Brazil's interest in engaging Iran is likely not just for the chance to earn diplomatic kudos. Bloomberg says that Brazilian business executives in oil, construction, and agriculture will go to Tehran with Lula. Bilateral trade with Iran already has more than doubled – to $1.2 billion – since Lula came into office in 2003. Lula might use the visit to offer Iran loans to increase food imports, said Brazilian presidential spokesman Marcelo Baumbach.

But Lula's drive for engagement with Iran could backfire at home.

In a Foreign Policy op-ed, called "Lula's Tehran Misadventure," the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars argues that Lula's attempt to make "a sort of victory lap" at the end of his presidency – he will step down from two consecutive terms in January – could "surely be remembered as Lula's crowning achievement" but that it just as likely could backfire.

A member of Lula's own Workers' Party spoke to me privately of his apprehension about Brazil's rapprochement with the Iranian regime, which he sees as a foreign-policy "exaggeration."

In Brazil, several nongovernmental organizations have protested Lula's weekend trip, according to the Brazilian daily O Globo.

"We're not against the approximation with Iran, but we demand that Lula raises the question of human rights at the negotiation table," Flávio Rassekh, an Iranian immigrant and leader of the Frente pela Liberdade no Irã (Front for Freedom in Iran), told O Globo. "We need to make clear that Brazil does not overlook the abuses committed by the government of Tehran."

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