Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, was in Egypt at the end of last year where he had meetings with president Hosni Mubarak and with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. An agreement for strategic dialogue was signed. The Brazilian minister forecasts more contacts in the areas of policies, culture, trade, science and technology and the intensification of bilateral relations.
In this interview Amorim spoke about the Summit of South American-Arab Countries (Aspa), the reform of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, greater Brazilian participation in the search for solution to the conflicts in the Middle East and about the next UN Alliance of Civilizations, to take place in Brazil in 2010.
What was the purpose of your visit to Egypt?
This visit is in return to the trip that Egyptian minister (Ahmed) Aboul Gheit made to Brazil in July 2009. At that occasion we agreed that we would have periodic meetings. Here (in Cairo) we signed an agreement for strategic dialogue and a document for sports cooperation.
What exactly is an agreement for strategic dialogue?
The idea is that the ministers or deputy ministers should meet at least once a year, in bilateral meetings, like this one, to discuss bilateral questions, like trade, culture, science and technology, and also political matters of joint interest. During my meeting with president Mubarak and minister Aboul Gheit, we spoke much, for example, about the Middle East, the situation in the region, Sudan, Honduras; in fact, we sought a way to understand more about global governance. With regard to relations between the Arab world and South America, this initiative has become so much stronger that there has even been much talk about the creation of a strategic axis between both worlds.
Do you believe that will happen? What is your impression of the closer ties between these two worlds at the moment?
I think that the word Axis has gained a negative connotation due to the 2nd World War, but we could speak about arcs involving multiple relations. What may be noticed is that South America and the Arab nations almost didn’t communicate some time ago, or spoke at specific moments, due to one or another nation. There are now closer ties and greater interest on both sides. I noticed, for example, that the president of Uruguay recently visited the Gulf. It is evident that the Aspa created a favorable climate for this kind of initiative. The Free Trade agreement between the Mercosur and Egypt, which we are negotiating, is not directly connected to the Aspa, but the climate created by the event is certainly simplifying its progress.
How do you evaluate trade and economic relations between Brazil and Egypt?
Our trade with Egypt has risen significantly. The trade balance was just US$ 300 million and is now at US$ 1.5 billion, still greatly favorable to Brazil. We have also noticed that there is fledgling interest of Brazilian investors in Egypt and also of Egyptian investors there. There are also other hypotheses that are being considered. Brazil is a country that has great demand for fertilizers and Egypt has great potential in the sector. I do not know exactly what is going to happen, but if we sign the Mercosur-Egypt agreement, I believe that trade may triple in few years.
This visit also shows the growing interest of Brazil in getting involved in global policy questions, as is the case with the problem in the Middle East. Brazil should enter the UN Security Council, temporarily, in January, a fact seen by many observers as a first step for permanent admittance to the group…
In this respect, I must frankly say that if the UN were established today, and were to have permanent members, Brazil would certainly be one of them. But it is obviously harder to rewrite existing statutes than to create new ones. But, in practice, Brazil, currently, participates in almost all global forums. Maybe the question of the Security Council is more complex, as it depends on the rewriting of the Charter of United Nations, subject to approval of two thirds, in turn subject to ratification of all members, including the permanent ones.
In what way does Brazil plan to become more involved in the question of the Middle East?
Well, in November, just to give an example, Brazil received the presidents of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Iran. All of that took place in just one month. They themselves traveled to Brazil. We did not come here. This is, of course, also the fruit of work that has been taking place for a long time, fruit of the interests of president Lula, of the position Brazil has been taking in the global scenario. I think that it is natural for Brazil to become interested in the questions of the Middle East, as they also affect world peace. And if they affect world peace, they evidently affect us too. That is not to mention the number of descendants of Arabs who live in Brazil.
Is Brazil elaborating a strategy to participate in a more efficient way in the conflict of the Middle East, or at least to become a heavyweight player in this question?
We are not going to come up with an entirely new solution to the question of the Middle East. All possible solutions have already been discussed. What is necessary is political desire to implement them. In our case, we would like to contribute to the dialogue. I think that a country like Brazil could do that easily. Due to our history and to the history that Brazil has in this region. Due to the international respect granted to Brazil. We do not want to do this alone, but by joining forces with other developing nations, like South Africa and India, which could have a more positive influence. Confining these talks to the “Quartet” has not generated great results: that is the truth. I therefore believe that a little more representation is necessary in the international community.
What does that mean in other terms? Greater Brazilian involvement with the Quartet, the strengthening of the country’s part in the Security Council regarding this matter, or something else?
There could be a combination between the three. The Security Council is a legitimate organization for dealing with international questions and Brazil supports the treatment granted in its scope, even knowing that the Security Council is subject to a veto. I had, anyway, already said this to (former Israeli Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni when she was in the government, that (the conference in) Annapolis (in the US) was a good format, also for Israel, as it would not be subject to the majorities, which they call automatic majorities in the Assembly General.
But it was also representative enough for the international community to be involved and to guarantee anything decided there. But that is one dimension. We could have another Annapolis. We always say that. We sometimes hear other ideas like that of president (Nicolas) Sarkozy (of France), who is suggesting a conference in Paris. He would certainly have our support in that.
But we have to know whether the countries of the region are also interested. It would not be worth it to promote a conference that does not include participation of the nations involved in the problem. I believe that there could be a process similar to that of Annapolis, and that it would be positive. On the other hand, despite not ignoring the existence of the Quartet, I believe that the group could cause other nations to participate in its works and meetings, as a greater number of nations involved in the talks could bring fresh air to it.
And I think that it would not be bad for the Quartet – which includes the UN Secretariat, Russia, the United States and the European Union – to include another three or four developing countries, and maybe another two or three Arab countries. Of course I do not yet have the precise formula, but I believe that bringing fresh air to this process would be positive, as this is a question that interests all.
Brazil is getting ready to receive, over the next few months, the third meeting of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. How are the preparations for this meeting and what does Brazil plan to present in terms of discussions about Islam and the West?
I believe that Brazil is a clear example of the Alliance of Civilizations. Not that we have always been peaceful, as we know that there was slavery in Brazil, the killing of Indians, things that are obviously condemnable. But there were many migrations from several parts, there was great integration, so I think that Brazil, somehow, shows what may be obtained with good coexistence between cultures, religions and ethnic groups.
What I think may be added to this debate, without wanting to replace what already exists, is a little of the African dimension, so important for Brazil, and that was little present in the first meeting of the Alliance – born more as a discussion between the West and Islam, a fact that remains important.
But I think that maybe it would be easier to face the question of the alliance in a more global scenerio than placing it in a dichotomous framework, as if there were just two great civilizations.
I do not believe in a conflict between Islam and the West as, for example, Brazil is a country geographically in the West. And what is the problem between Brazil and Islam? None. What there really is is a problem with fundamentalism, but that may be seen in all parts, not just in religions.