Lula Arrives in Tehran Amid Iran’s Optimism and World’s Skepticism

Lula and AhmadinejadBrazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva arrived in Tehran around 11 pm on Saturday. The Iran government seemed optimist with Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s efforts to mediate a dialog between Tehran and the great powers at a time when the stage is set up to introduce sanctions to punish the Iranian government.

“There are conditions to reach an agreement,” said a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, referring to an exchange of Iranian uranium for nuclear fuel from Turkey.

Lula will meet today with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. While Brazilian diplomats in Tehran denied the existence of new proposals to present to Ahmadinejad by Lula, other officials traveling with the Brazilian president announced that there will be new items included in the negotiations.

On the streets Iranians seem happy with the visit of Lula who is being shown in huge posters in the city side by side with Ahmadinejad. The opposition, however, says it feels frustrated with the trip arguing that the government is using the Lula-Ahmadinejad encounter as proof that Iran is not isolated in the world community.

Last week the Iranian ambassador in Brazil, Mohsen Shaterzadeh, declared that his country is willing to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but did not offer details.

May 11, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehman-Parast, declared that the ideal formula for a solution to the controversy surrounding his country’s nuclear program would be an exchange of low-enriched uranium (used to fuel a nuclear power plant) for uranium enriched to 20% (which can be used for research and nuclear medicine).

And at the same time the official Iranian news agency, Irna, explained that a uranium exchange had been proposed by Brazil and that the Iranian government was grateful for the proposal.

However, Brazilian authorities deny having made such a proposal. What president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and foreign minister Celso Amorim do say is that Brazil opposes additional sanctions and favors further negotiations at this moment as the Iranians have a right to develop their nuclear program as long as it is for peaceful objectives.

This probably seems confusing – and it is.

First, calls (and demands) for Iran to renew business relations (including inspections) with the IAEA are not new. Discussions regarding the Iran – IAEA relationship have been in progress, on and off, with and without Iran, over a period of many months.

Second, the uranium exchange proposal was made a few weeks ago by Western nations (led by the United States, England and France) but every time the moment arrives to work out the details the talks get derailed. Up to the Mehman-Parast declaration, Iran had been insisting that the exchange had to take place in Iran under exclusively Iranian supervision. That is not acceptable to the Western nations. 

Lula left on a seven-day, five-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe. The prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is also in Iran. Brazil and Turkey are rotating members on the UN Security Council at the moment and both oppose sanctions. According to presidential spokesman, Marcelo Baumbach, Brazil and Turkey could join forces to mediate negotiations between Iran and the international community.

It should be pointed out that a tidal change of opinion has occurred in some Western capitals regarding Lula in his new role as would-be Middle East power broker. Ten days ago he was one of Time magazine’s most influential leaders. Today the French foreign minister is warning that Lula must be careful lest the Iranians fool him. And a Washington Post blogger (Jackson Diehl) bluntly says “Brazil’s Lula has become Iran’s useful idiot.”

Presidential spokesman, Marcelo Baumbach, says Lula is not taking any new proposals to Tehran. It might be a good idea to come away with something tangible.

Trade with Iran is high on Lula’s agenda. Between 2002 and 2007, bilateral Brazil-Iran trade rose from US$ 500 million to almost US$ 2 billion. At the moment, Brazil’s biggest trade surplus in the Middle East is with Iran.

Lula has never been shy about being a traveling salesman for Brazil. He actively seeks out foreign investments. So, trade is high on the agenda. But this trip is also dealing with a series of controversial issues.

There is United Nations reform, changes in the Security Council and the fight to get Brazil a permanent seat on the council. There is the international financial crisis. There is the Iranian nuclear program. There is Honduras.

In Iran Lula will be signing agreements and seeking commercial opportunities. According to presidential spokespersons, the idea is to “strengthen the political dialogue between Brazil and Iran.”

After Iran, Lula goes to Madrid for the 6th Latin American, Caribbean and European Union Summit. On the agenda, the future of the group, the European crisis, Haiti and climate change. Lula, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela all threatened to boycott the summit if Porfirio Lobo of Honduras attended, because his December election is not seen as legitimate.

Lula, Correa, Kirchner and Chavez insist that Lobo extend an amnesty to the deposed president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and his supporters. The diplomatic solution for this impasse was to uninvite Lobo to the summit and have him attend a parallel event with EU representatives.

Last stop for Lula is Portugal. He will attend the 10th Luso-Brazilian Summit (“cúpula” in Brazil, “cimeira” in Portugal). In meetings with Portuguese businessmen, Lula will explain investment opportunities in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.



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