It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:
The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23. Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”
Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?
There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.
It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.
As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.
Consider that while Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.