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The Squid and The Ally

It’s no secret that Brazil wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.  And Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva is more than willing to spend some political capital to get one.  After a visit by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Lula welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on November 24.  It was the first visit by an Iranian head of state since the Shah came to Brazil in 1965.

However, while Ahmadinejad was in Brasilia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India was in Washington to discuss regional security and a multibillion dollar defense deal that would bring the US Patriot system as well as 10 C-17s to New Delhi.  It’s also no secret that India wants a seat.

Brazil and India in the Middle East.

Brazil and India along with Russia and China make up the BRICs – an increasingly powerful politico-economic bloc.  Russia and China have stepped closer to the side of sanctions against Iran and in doing so have cast light on the growing international influence of Brazil and India. 

Both nations are engaged in the Middle East.  Israel is India’s second largest arms supplier after Russia and the partnership has led to cooperation in space technology:

"Due to Israel’s geographical location, it is only able to launch its own intelligence-gathering satellites westward, against the Earth's rotation. That limits the range of orbits over Iran. Launching from India's Satish Dhawan Space Center on the Gulf of Bengal in southeastern India means Israel can launch eastward, adding another dimension to its surveillance of the Islamic Republic."

According to Spacewar, Indian launches of Israeli satellites have also led to an important breakthrough: a satellite that will provide additional surveillance of Iran and its missile-launching zones with sensors that can reportedly take photos with a maximum ground resolution of 1 meter day and night and through cloud cover.

Most recently Israel fast tracked one of its surveillance satellites to India following the Mumbai attacks giving “India a major intelligence and early warning edge over Pakistan, and indeed every other Asian state except China and Japan.”

Brazil is also engaged in the Middle East – predominantly with Saudi Arabia.  

Lula puts his charm to work,

“Arab values, tastes and sensibilities are today an integral part of what it means to be Brazilian.”  He continues, “Saudi Arabia [has] become Brazil’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. Since I took office in 2003, bilateral trade has multiplied four-fold, rising from $1.2 billion to $5.5 billion.”

Petrochemicals cooperation between Brazilian state oil giant Petrobras and the Saudi firm Modern Chemicals have been sealed along with a joint venture between Brazilian biotech firm Biomm and the Saudi Gabas group to produce human insulin for the Gulf region.

As reported by Agence-France Press, two-way trade is heavily biased in Brazil's favor, with Saudi Arabia an important market for Brazilian grain, poultry, beef and manufacturing equipment.  Lula singled out Riyadh's six-year, 400-billion-dollar capital investment programme as an opportunity for Brazilian business.

"Saudi Arabia has a great infrastructure program and certainly Brazil would like to participate," Lula said.  He added that his country could become a "strategic partner" for Saudi Arabia in its search for farm investment opportunities abroad to develop greater food security.  "We have high expectations to receive Saudi investment in agribusiness."

Brazil and Iran.  Iran and India.

Lula seeks a more active role in diffusing Middle East tensions.  One of the Brazilian President’s recent suggestions was a soccer match between Brazil and a team composed of Israelis and Palestinians.  Perhaps Lula could also assist Qadaffi by refereeing a rematch of the standoff between Algeria and Egypt. 

All kidding aside, Lula need not leave the South American continent to engage Middle Eastern politics – Lula’s warm embrace of Ahmadinejad didn’t play well at home among liberal democratic Brazilians.

Brazzil Magazine asks,

“Can you believe the word of a person who denies historical facts? Can you believe the word of a person who rigs the elections in his country? Can you believe the word of a person who eliminates freedom of press and of the media in general? Can you believe the word of a person who imposes his decisions through his political police, his SS, his 'Revolutionary Guard?'"

More criticism of Lula's Foreign Relations followed,

“The diplomatic incoherence is plain….The electoral fraud in Iran is praised [as] a domestic affair while the Honduran elections are condemned.  It seems that our diplo-MÁ-cia has an elective affinity with totalitarian regimes, something never before seen in our diplomatic history.” 

Daniel Brumberg, an Iran expert at the Washington-based US Institute of Peace:

"One would hope Brazil's diplomacy would be skillful enough to get certain types of messages across to the Iranians and not just give Ahmadinejad the red-carpet treatment.”

"Lula" - Portuguese for "Squid"For better or worse, one of the attributes that has made “Lula” – Portuguese for “squid” – such an attractive personality is his ability to take on the characteristics of those around him.

Turkey has an interesting take on all the noise that comes with Iranian relations and shares the West's goals regarding the nuclear ambitions of Tehran’s mullahs; it's just doing things in its own way.  Officials in Ankara insist that Erdogan's warm words to Ahmadinejad are [like Lula’s] no more than atmospherics.

"We have been dealing with [Iranians] for centuries," says an 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 program?"

As Newsweek explains about the Middle Eastern reality, “the Tehran regime remains paralyzed by infighting and is far from loved in most of the Arab world. Saudis in particular think back fondly to the Ottomans facing off against the Persians.” 

Desperately Skirting Sanctions...

Juan Forero of the Washington Post writes,

“In Latin America, Iran has found a means to skirt sanctions via 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 Chávez said would be used for peaceful purposes.”

And Iran’s footprint in the southern hemisphere has become more of a blueprint for exerting pressure on the US and western democratic nations. 

Since 2004, Iran has opened embassies in Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  In an effort to counter the Islamic Republic’s expanding regional influence, the US’s Voice of America broadcast announced on November 24 that it too will be expanding its audience in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. 

Tehran is also reaching out to India in an effort to dodge sanctions via the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline.  Used diplomatically as bait for Iranian complicity in the region, the IPI pipeline would help quench Pakistani and Indian thirst for natural gas.

As of December 2, “Mehdi Nabizade, the Iranian envoy to New Delhi, told the Iranian Students' News Agency that agreements on the IPI project are moving forward following a round of bilateral talks in India.”  Iran is eager to move ahead with the long-delayed IPI project from the South Pars gas field and a tri-lateral meeting on IPI is being scheduled.

Brazil or India?

With a nod to the BRICs voting power in the IMF and its expanding multipolar influence in general, Lula stated that "current ruling systems of the world are unable to sort out crises and governments need to cooperate to ease problems."  

Thanks to Russia and China taking a backseat for now, Brazil and India are shaping the global scenario vis a vis Iran; both proving their worth and vying for a seat on the Security Council.