OBama to Rio – Needs to Deftly Handle New President And Spectre of Lula

Posted on March 19, 2011

From "The Hindu"

The commander in chief would not miss out on a trip to Rio de Janiero. However it is possible that, aside from cozying up to the current President, Dilma Rousseff,  either the President or a member of his entourage will meet with former President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or “Lula” as he is styled.  Seen as more pragmatic, Dilma Rousseff is Lula’s protege.

Rousseff won election last year pledging to continue the work of her popular mentor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Since taking office three months ago, her moves to rein in spending, take a tougher stance on China’s controlled currency and end Lula’s friendly relations with Iran have surprised both friends and foes.

Her shared sense with Obama that China is harming the economic interests of both their countries by undervaluing the yuan creates an opening for the U.S. leader when he arrives for two days of meetings with Brazil’s first female president and sightseeing in Rio de Janeiro with his wife, Michelle, and two daughters, Malia and Sasha. [Bloomberg]

It will be remembered that former President Lula earned international respect as an honest broker/negotiator in the Middle East last year.  Armed with the UN sanctions against Iran, he traveled from Moscow to Iran to de-escalate tensions and to hope for some kind of agreement that would avoid the sanctions.  Brazil has a long history of dealings with Iran. [see On my Watch, Brazil’s Lula Visits Iran in Last Ditch Effort to Avoid Sanctions [UPDATED] However, in the end the US did not agree to the terms Ahmadinejad insisted upon.

Lula also does not believe there will be a nuclear war in the Middle East.

“The conflict transcends regional dimensions” and its resolution “is everyone’s responsibility” the Brazilian leader said. He rejected “the thesis that the Middle East is destined for conflict and that its sons are condemned to live in the irrationality of war”. [Brazzilmag.com]

But Lula also stated last may that there would never be peace in the Middle East until the end of the US “guardianship” over it.  [Haaretz.com]

The Boston Herald sees the trip on a more optimistic note:

For Obama, the visit represents a chance to engage with newly elected President Dilma Rousseff and get a firsthand assessment of what administration officials believe is her practical approach to governance and foreign relations after eight years of the flamboyant Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Lula, as he was commonly known, infuriated U.S. officials in the last two years of his presidency by attempting his own personal diplomacy with Iran and refusing to condemn Iran’s human rights abuses. Rousseff, though hand-picked by Lula as his successor, has signaled that she will ease back from that approach.

Still, Rousseff showed no qualms about distancing Brazil from the United States over Libya. As a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Brazil was one of five countries that abstained from the vote Thursday that authorized a no-fly zone over Libyan air space.

And she has not entirely abandoned the idea of maintaining a dialogue with Iran.[Boston Herald]

While this is perhaps true, it is also true the Lula remains a diplomatic force with which to be reckoned.  Many see him as continuing to be involved in the Middle East as a key negotiator.  Obama needs to continue to pay attention to him.

Posted in: Barack Obama, BRAZIL