x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ahmadinejad strengthens ties with Latin America

While the US and its allies use the threat of isolation to pressure Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tour of Latin America and Africa shows that the Islamic republic does not lack friends. While the US President Barack Obama ran for office promising that he would engage with Iran, Brazil's embrace with Iran has provoked alarm in some quarters.

As Iran's president embarked on a tour of Latin America and Africa promoting economic and political ties with the Islamic republic, Michael Theodoulou noted in The National: "Mr Ahmadinejad's five-day foreign excursion is also intended to show that he enjoys legitimacy in countries far nearer to Washington than Tehran. Before the June elections, he crowed: 'When western countries were trying to isolate Iran, we went to the US backyard.'" While the US President Barack Obama ran for office promising that he would engage with Iran, Brazil's embrace with Iran has provoked alarm in some quarters. The Scotsman said that Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva "is steering an independent foreign policy, aligning his country neither too closely to the US nor to Latin America's radical leftists. "Israel, however, said it was a 'mistake' for Brazil to host Mr Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and revels in anti-Israeli rhetoric. Some US politicians also expressed dismay. 'President Lula should not lend legitimacy to Ahmadinejad,' said New York congressman Eliot Engel." Pepe Escobar recalled that in his first weeks in office the US president had been effusive in his praise of Brazil's popular leader. "Obama admitted at the Group of 20 gathering in London this year that Lula 'is the man' - and opinion polls back him up, with the Brazilian leader at present the world's most popular political leader, with an approval rating of 79 per cent; Obama has just slipped below 50 per cent. So what is 'the man' saying? He's saying that Brazil supports Iran's access to 'peaceful nuclear energy'. "When Lula talks, world leaders do listen; nor is he shy about running through a roll call of those he 'advises' on how to behave with Iran. " 'I told Obama, I told [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy, I told [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel that we will not get good things out of Iran if we corner them. You need to create space to talk.' This is not only Lula talking - it's Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) talk. Carefully balancing his act, Lula at the same time defended the rights of 'a safe and secure state of Israel'. "Ahmadinejad's whirlwind tour of five countries in Africa and South America - Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and Evo Morales' Bolivia are included in the itinerary - means South America especially is seen as a business escape route for Iran to dodge more Western sanctions. For the leadership in Tehran - the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Ahmadinejad political faction - Brazil is now regarded as a business partner and as a strategic partner. "This is South-South dialogue in action, multipolar world style. Iran sees Brazil as a possible mediator vis-a-vis its intractable problems with the United States and Europe. Brazil for its part wants a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (Iran supports it) and more than welcomes more 'soft power' influence in the Middle East." Lula's approach to Iran is similar to that of Turkey. "Turkey shares the West's goals regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions," Newsweek says, "it's just doing things in its own way. 'We have been dealing with [Iranians] for centuries,' says the Erdogan aide. 'We show them the respect and friendship they crave. Would our being hostile to Iran do anything to solve the problem of their nuclear programme?'" Time magazine reported: "Lula is desperate for Brazil to take on a more prominent role in world affairs, and would like nothing more than to bask in the prestige of playing peacemaker. The Brazilian leader gave Ahmadinejad the red-carpet treatment at their meeting Monday, telling him Brazil supports Iran's nuclear programme 'for peaceful means'. "Brazil's interest in the Iran nuclear standoff is not based only on Lula's desire to mediate global conflict, however; Brazil is an emerging nuclear-energy nation with two reactors in operation, a third near completion, and with plans to build between four and eight more nuclear power plants before 2030. It has also signed deals with France to build nuclear-powered submarines. "As such, Brazil already has the know-how and capacity to enrich uranium that could be used to create weapons, but refrains from doing so, not only because it would be expensive and hugely controversial, but also because Brazil's constitution forbids it, says Guilherme Camargo, president of the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Association. But while Brazil and other developing-world nations that plan to use nuclear energy share the Western powers' goal of ensuring that Iran does not produce nuclear weapons, they don't support the position taken by the US and its closest allies that Iran should forfeit the right to enrich uranium on its own soil even for peaceful purposes. Enrichment, under international supervision, to create reactor fuel is a right guaranteed to signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Brazil and other would-be nuclear-energy producers view attempts to limit the peaceful nuclear ambitions of a developing nation as an unfair attempt by the established nuclear powers to keep the new boys down." The Washington Post said: "in Latin America, Iran has found close cooperation among an anti-Washington alliance that includes Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Ahmadinejad and the leaders of those countries have signed numerous cooperation agreements, in which Iran has pledged to build milk plants and tractor factories and to provide low-interest loans. Venezuela's government has gone further, announcing that Iran is helping in the search for uranium, which Chavez said would be used for peaceful purposes. "In a recent interview, Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Álvarez, insisted that the relationship is part of Caracas's effort to widen its ties worldwide. He noted that Venezuela and Iran, both members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, have had commercial ties since 1960. " 'We have always planted a multipolar world,' Alvarez said. 'That means building relations with middle-level countries like India, with Brazil, with Iran.' He added: 'The fact that we have this relationship does not mean that we are in agreement with everything' that Iran does. "In his tour of Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela this week, Ahmadinejad secured support for Tehran's efforts to develop nuclear energy. He also got a platform to rail against American and Israeli policies. "In a joint conference with Lula, Ahmadinejad defiantly said that the United States and Israel 'don't have the courage' to attack Iran. Al Jazeera reported: "Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, has branded Israel a murderous agent of the US during a visit to Caracas by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his Iranian counterpart. "Chavez's comments came after remarks earlier this month by Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, who said during a visit to South America that the Venezuelan leader and Ahmadinejad's days in power may be numbered. "Addressing a joint news conference in the Venezuelan capital, Chavez said: 'We know what the state of Israel stands for, a murderous arm of the Yankee empire. " 'What the president of Israel said, we take as a threat.' "Chavez broke relations with Israel earlier this year following its offensive in the Gaza Strip which he branded as genocide."

pwoodward@thenational.ae