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The About Face in Iran-Brazil Relations

Brazil's president has pushed hard to unravel the diplomatic conundrum between Washington and Tehran, yet despite any perceived failures, he will leave Brazil with a much higher level of international respect than when he entered office eight years ago.

Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva signed a decree on 10 August to add his country's support to the latest round of United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran. This about face in Iran-Brazil relations is an indication of how far Brazil is willing to risk its international reputation by supporting Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology.

President Lula and his likely successor, former chief-of-staff Dilma Rouseff, both agree that Brazil's hopes of UNSC reform rest more soundly on Brazil's relationship with permanent Security Council members than with Iran, still largely considered a rouge state by most western countries.

On 9 June, when the Security Council met to vote on this latest round of sanctions, Brazil and Turkey were the only two countries to vote in favor of Iran. At the time, both Turkey and Brazil reveled in a 17 May breakthrough uranium-swap agreement with Iran to fuel a scientific research reactor in Tehran. This agreement raised the international profile of Brazil's negotiation prowess, but since the June sanctions vote and August signature, which will bring the sanctions into force, Brazil's most high-profile negotiation agreement has clearly garnered little to no traction in the larger international community.

Brazil's relationship with Iran, while argued to be mutually beneficial inside Brazil, is built on the back of President Lula's relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and, more importantly, Lula's desire to promote Brazil as the world's conflict resolution specialist. For the better part of Lula's last year in office, he has courted Iran, seen as an opportunity to raise Brazil's status from regional leader and mediator to an international player - one that can unravel the world's most pressing diplomatic conundrum.

As much as Brazil would like to promote itself as an international force for mediation, the choice of Iran was more fraught with potential failure than success - and perhaps more an indication of how strongly Lula believed in his own negotiation prowess than the reality of Brazil's ability to break the squared-off stance between Washington and Tehran.

Still, Brazil has another chance. Iran has requested that Brazil intermediate between Iran and the Council of Vienna - a group formed by the US, France and Russia - for another round of nuclear negotiations. This will likely be Lula's final chance to promote Brazil on the world stage before October presidential elections, when his handpicked successor Dilma Rouseff is expected to win.

Rouseff, while in alignment with most of Lula's foreign and domestic priorities, does not enjoy nearly the international respect of her former boss. Under her leadership, Brazil could easily slide back into its comfortable position of South America's regional leader and mediator - to stand between Colombia and Venezuela - despite Lula's attempts to pull Brazil out of this traditional geopolitical rut.

Despite this possibility, as well as Lula's slim chances of a successful mediation between the Vienna Council and Iran at the end of August, Brazil retains some respect for shrewd negotiation, whether at the table with Iran and Turkey or at the World Trade Organization. As Lula moves into the next phase of his career, he will likely downplay any relations with Iran as he continues to promote Brazil as a global power vis-à-vis improving relations with the old guard at the Security Council - regardless of any perceived failure with Iran during the last year of a largely successful eight years in office.

By. Samuel Logan

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  • Anonymous on August 22 2010 said:
    There's no "about-face" in Brazil-Iran relations. Brazil has always made it very clear that although it opposes the sanctions it would abide by UNSC resolutions, even before this new round of sanctions was voted. Iran has always known that Brazil would vote against sanctions and then back them in case they were adopted.

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