Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton undertakes a “we haven’t forgotten you” swing through Latin America this week that aims to bolster the Obama administration’s profile in the region, with an agenda ranging from democracy and security to Iran.
Iran? One of Secretary Clinton’s stops is Brazil, which currently holds a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council, where the US is pressing for adoption of a new round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Brazil aspires to world-power status and to a permanent seat on an expanded Security Council, but it also says it opposes international measures against Iran. So Clinton will emphasize the internationalist perspective that a nuclear Iran would destabilize a volatile region, and remind the Brazilians that (in the US view) if they want to be a world power, they need to think and act like one.
Stable democracies highlighted
More broadly, Clinton will use her five-country trip to highlight how the Western Hemisphere is almost uniformly a region of stable democracies facing common challenges, aides say. On her week-long trip, Clinton is scheduled to visit Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, all of which recently elected new presidents.
(Because of the massive earthquake Saturday, it was unclear Sunday if Clinton would be able to visit Chile Tuesday as planned. In a statement Clinton said, "The United States stands ready to provide necessary assistance to Chile in the days and weeks ahead and is coordinating closely with senior Chilean officials on the content and timing of such support.")
While Uruguay elected a leader from the left, Chileans opted to shift their presidency from the left to the right. For its part, Costa Rica elected its first woman president.
Clinton will “underscore US support for representative democracy in the region, regardless of whether elected leaders come from the left ... or from the right,” says Peter DeShazo, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Mr. DeShazo notes that the Obama administration started off professing a deep commitment to the region, backing up words with high-profile visits.
President Obama visited Mexico and attended a hemispheric summit in Trinidad early in his presidency.
But – as often happens – other international and domestic issues crowded out Latin America, so Clinton is out to reconfirm the commitment, DeShazo says.
Clinton’s trip comes a week after Latin American and Caribbean countries decided to create a new regional bloc to include Cuba (barred as a dictatorship from the Organization of American States) but closed to the US and Canada.
Officials in Washington insist the US welcomes the new organization focused on southern interests.
Repairing the damage over Honduras
Still, the secretary of State’s trip also appears to be designed in part to repair the damage the US relationship with the region sustained over Washington’s handling of last year’s coup in Honduras and its aftermath. Two of Clinton’s stops will be in Central America, where she will press for Honduras’s reinsertion into the hemispheric community and for the region to overcome differences over Honduras’s new post-coup government, State Department officials say.
“We see the outcome in Honduras is a very successful case of standing for a very fundamental principle ... that you cannot tolerate a coup d’etat in a country,” said Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, in a briefing for reporters on Clinton’s trip Friday.
“But at the same time, a solution had to be found to Honduras,” he added, noting that the “international community” has recognized the recent election of President Porfirio Lobo, whom voters chose in January to replace the ousted Manuel Zelaya. “We need to work to try to see how we can engage it back in.”
Mr. Valenzuela also addressed Washington’s interest in discussing Iran with Brazil, saying, “What we want to try to tell the Brazilians is yes, if you have engagement with Iran, we’d really want to encourage you and urge you to in fact use that engagement in a way that you can push the Iranians ... to meet their fundamental international obligations.”
Putting the point a bit more bluntly, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Phillip Crowley told reporters a day earlier, “Brazil is an emerging power with a growing influence in the region and around the world, and we believe that with that influence comes responsibility. And we will be talking to Brazil about the way forward on Iran.”