Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he pushes to revive diplomatic efforts to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
In a speech to the press after their talks, Ahmadinejad called Lula a “friend” who supported justice. He made no mention of Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West. Lula, who was accompanied by a 300-member delegation including Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, will be in Tehran tomorrow morning for the opening of a meeting of leaders of developing nations.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on May 14 that Lula’s trip “may be the last chance” for a negotiated solution before the United Nations Security Council considers new sanctions. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said on May 13 that if Lula fails, efforts to negotiate with Iran should end and pressure for sanctions should intensify.
The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its atomic program. Iran rejects the claim and says its activities are solely civilian.
“If Iran has anything to say, now is the time to say it,” said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Center in Beirut. Iran and world powers failed to strike a deal because their stances are not close enough to find a common ground and “the presence of Lula will not change this basic point,” Salem said.
Lula, speaking to journalists in Doha before arriving in Iran, said “there’s no deadline for negotiations” to end and reiterated his hope that sanctions may be avoided.
Lula has said that sanctions are counterproductive and he wants Iran and Brazil to enjoy the right to develop peaceful civilian nuclear programs.
Lula told journalists last week in Recife, Brazil that President Barack Obama and leaders from France and Great Britain have “never called Ahmadinejad to talk.”
“I was born a politician and I do business eye-to-eye,” he said.
Ahmadinejad, speaking at the UN on May 5, said a lack of trust in the U.S. and other Western powers is the principal reason Iran hasn’t concluded an agreement to exchange some of its low-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel that can be used in a Tehran reactor for medical purposes.
Further UN sanctions may penalize Iranian banking, shipping and insurance industries.
Brazilian business executives from the oil, construction and agricultural industries are accompanying Lula to Tehran. Trade with Iran has more than doubled to $1.2 billion since Lula took office in 2003. Lula may use the visit to provide Iranians with loans to boost food imports, presidential spokesman Marcelo Baumbach has said.
-- With assistance from Andre Soliani in Brasilia, Matthew Bristow in Bogota. Editors: Louis Meixler, Joshua Goodman.