New York Times: Iran’s efforts to cultivate political support in Latin America at a time of rising international tension over its nuclear program appear to have encountered a significant obstacle: Brazil, the region’s economic powerhouse.
The New York Times
By SIMON ROMERO
RIO DE JANEIRO — Iran’s efforts to cultivate political support in Latin America at a time of rising international tension over its nuclear program appear to have encountered a significant obstacle: Brazil, the region’s economic powerhouse.
After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran took a four-country tour of Latin America this month, during which he met with several outspoken critics of the United States but was notably not invited to stop in Brazil, one of his top advisers took a public swipe at Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, saying she had “destroyed years of good relations” between the two nations.
“The Brazilian president has been striking against everything that Lula accomplished,” Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who has worked as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s top media adviser, said in an interview published Monday by Folha de São Paulo, a leading Brazilian newspaper, in which he compared Ms. Rousseff to her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Mr. da Silva, who left office a year ago, visited Tehran in 2010, wading into Middle East diplomacy in an attempt to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. Together with Turkey’s government, he forged a fuel-swap deal for Iran to ship low-enriched uranium abroad.
That agreement failed after the Obama administration rejected it and Iran said it planned to continue enriching uranium. Even so, Brazil’s exports to Iran soared in the ensuing months; Iran briefly surpassed Russia at one point in 2011 as the largest export market for Brazilian beef.
In recent months, however, trade ties between the two nations have frayed somewhat. Brazil’s exports to Iran climbed to $2.1 billion in 2010 from $1.2 billion a year earlier. But now some Brazilian companies have complained that it has become harder to obtain Iranian import licenses, curbing what had been an otherwise dynamic market for Brazil.
“Since October, we noticed an abrupt break in purchases by Iran,” said Francisco Turra, president of the Brazilian Poultry Union, a trade group. He said that officials at Iran’s Embassy in Brasília and at Brazil’s Embassy in Tehran had assured his group that Brazilian exports were still welcome in Iran. Mr. Turra said he was awaiting the release of the new export statistics to determine how to proceed.
The views of Mr. Javanfekr, an influential if polarizing political figure in Iran, present a dilemma for Brazil as it attempts to hew to a pragmatic foreign policy that maintains access to important markets while avoiding confrontation.
Nevertheless, last year, after the election of Ms. Rousseff, Mr. da Silva’s chosen successor, Brazil supported a move by the United Nations to investigate claims of human rights abuses in Iran, an initiative led by Washington. The decision was viewed as a subtle shift from Mr. da Silva’s previous relations with Tehran.
Tovar da Silva Nunes, the spokesman for Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, declined to comment on Mr. Javanfekr’s remarks. Instead, Mr. da Silva Nunes said ties with Iran remained warm, reflected by a meeting at the United Nations in September between Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, arranged at Iran’s request. Moreover, Mr. da Silva Nunes said Brazil remained “skeptical” about the use of sanctions to exert pressure on Iran.
How closely Mr. Javanfekr’s remarks adhere to the views of the Iranian political establishment is a matter of debate. Though he wields influence in the Iranian president’s circle of top advisers, having served as the head of the official Islamic Republic News Agency and Iran’s official daily newspaper, Mr. Javanfekr has also come under scrutiny amid a rivalry within Iran’s leadership. A Tehran court recently gave Mr. Javanfekr a one-year jail sentence for insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, exposing the friction between Mr. Ahmadinejad and conservatives in government.
In his swing through Latin America this month, Mr. Ahmadinejad visited just four nations, all with tense ties with Washington but limited regional influence: Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. The itinerary did not include the region’s largest countries: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia or Argentina.
Iran’s efforts to make new friends in Latin America also seemed to gain little traction during the tour. In one exception, while in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, Mr. Ahmadinejad met with Desi Bouterse, the convicted drug trafficker who is now president of tiny Suriname.
However, Iran’s ambassador in Brasília, Mohsen Shaterzadeh, surprised reporters on Saturday by telling them that Mr. Ahmadinejad was still planning to visit Brazil sometime this year. He did not mention a date. Mr. da Silva Nunes, the spokesman for Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said Monday that no formal request for a visit had yet been made.
Lis Horta Moriconi contributed reporting