Cablegate: Constraining Iranian Influence in Brazil

DE RUEHBR #0896/01 1832205
P 012205Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/12/2018

B. 08 BRASILIA 756
C. 08 BRASILIA 531
D. 08 BRASILIA 526
E. 08 BRASILIA 420
F. 08 BRASILIA 304
I. 07 BRASILIA 2262
J. 07 BRASILIA 2217
K. 07 BRASILIA 2151
L. 07 BRASILIA 2132
M. 07 BRASILIA 1990
N. 07 BRASILIA 1889
O. 05 BRASILIA 1252
P. 05 BRASILIA 760
Q. 05 BRASILIA 718
R. 05 BRASILIA 574

Classified By: Ambassador Clifford Sobel. Reasons: 1.4 (B and D).

1. (U) This is an Action Request, please see paragraph 3.

2. (C) Summary: Brazil's participation in the Annapolis peace conference is now cited by every Itamaraty contact, from Foreign Minister Amorim to Middle East desk officers, as the cornerstone of its growing efforts to exert global leadership. Since Annapolis, discussion of Middle East-related topics has become a key agenda item in almost all high-level bilateral discussions. So far, Brazil's Middle East-related initiatives can best be described as clumsy, and statements by senior GOB officials regarding key issues in the region have often been unhelpful.

3. (C) Most worrisome is that the GOB's increasing focus on the Middle East coincides with aggressive efforts on the part of Iran to extend its influence in the region beyond Caracas to other countries in Latin America, including Brazil, in the hope of forming a front that will resist U.S. influence and look favorably on Tehran. Although a wholesale buy-in by Brazilians is not likely, Tehran's anti-imperialist sentiments play well with the Brazilian left, and senior GOB officials have made it clear that they are looking to increase and cultivate their relations with Iran, which they view as a key regional economic and political power. In post's view, although we are unlikely to persuade the GOB to take an approach fully in step with ours, it is critical to engage the GOB both to ensure they have a complete understanding of U.S. policy and concerns in the region, and to demonstrate that we take Brazil's leadership aspirations seriously. End summary.

4. (C) Action request: A number of recent factors point towards a new opportunity to engage Brazil on its Middle East policies. In light of this, post seeks Washington support for a high-level briefer or briefers from NEA or other agencies, preferably at the DAS-level or higher, to come to Brasilia for detailed discussions with Brazilian government officials, members of Congress, and, where appropriate, press, regarding U.S. policy as it relates to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Syria, the ongoing situation in Lebanon, our policies with regards to designated terrorist groups Hamas and Hizballah, and Iran nuclear proliferation, support for terrorism, and activities inside Iraq. End action request.

--------------------------------------------- ------- Whether We Like it or Not: Brazil In the Middle East --------------------------------------------- -------

5. (C) Although Brazil's national interests in the Middle East traditionally have veered towards commerce and trade, Brazil increasingly is dabbling in political matters there. In practice, this often means taking potshots at U.S policies

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in order to burnish its credentials as a relevant, influential, and independent player on global issues. Brazilian officials hold the belief that the country's global leadership aspirations depend in part on having a role on the most pressing international issues in the global agenda. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim has indicated as much, noting that he is "sick of trade" and is looking for opportunities to spotlight Brazil's global leadership. He sees Brazil's invitation to Annapolis and continued participation in Mideast peace issues as an opportunity to do just that (Ref J).

6. (C) Extreme GOB sensitivity to being seen as taking Washington's side has led to a consistent tendency to express sympathy toward countries in Washington's crosshairs, such as Iran and Syria. These sympathies have provoked a number of statements and actions running counter to U.S. interests and sometimes contradicting long-held tenets of Brazil's foreign policy. Some examples of unhelpful Brazilian actions over the past three years include:
-- Mum on Syria out of Lebanon: During its last Security Council stint, Brazil abstained on UNSCR 1559 calling on foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon and refused to echo U.S.-French calls for withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, claiming it was concerned that France, as the former colonial power, would attempt to fill the void left after Syrian withdrawal (Ref R).
-- No need to consult with U.S.: In 2005, after a nine country Middle East trip by Foreign Minister Amorim in which he criticized U.S. and Israeli actions, Itamaraty officials rebuffed U.S. requests that Brazil consult with the United States before making pronouncements that might complicate delicate peace talks. Itamaraty stated that Brazil had no need to ask permission of the United States in carrying out foreign policy initiatives and that the United States should expect more Brazilian statements on Middle East issues (Ref R).
-- Arab States-South America (ASSA) Summit: During the 2005 summit, despite assurances to the USG that the summit declaration would not contain language that the United States or Israel would consider problematic, Brazil lost control of the Summit and caved to Arab countries on all controversial issues. The declaration included language on politically sensitive and highly controversial topics, such as a demand that Israel withdraw to its June 4, 1967 frontiers and comply with the International Court of Justice July 2004 decision on dismantling the security wall. The declaration also specifically expresses "profound concern with the unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria by the Government of the United States and considers the so-called 'Syria Accountability Act' a violation of the principles of international law and constitutes a transgression against the objectives and principles of the United Nations..." The declaration also praised the Government of Sudan for "facilitating international assistance to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur." Furthermore, Brazil refused to grant the United States observer status at the summit, claiming the summit's purpose to be expanding cultural and commercial ties, and not political issues that concerned the U.S. (Refs O and P)
-- Nuclear Proliferation and Iran: The GoB opposed the effort to refer Iran to the Security Council until the vote in the IAEA had become a foregone conclusion, when the PRC and Russia agreed to a western compromise proposal. Brazil did not vote to condemn Iran's nuclear activities until Iran missed the UN-mandated deadline for allowing international inspectors to visit suspicious nuclear facilities.
-- Iran, cont: In September 2007, President Lula defended Iran's record of compliance with IAEA and UNSCR regarding its nuclear program, even after UNSC had passed two resolutions,

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1737 and 1747, requiring Iran to fully suspend its proliferation sensitive nuclear activities and after the IAEA had found Iran to be in violation of UNSC. Lula publicly defended Iran's record, stating: "Iran has the right to conduct its own experiments provided they are for peaceful far Iran has not committed any crime against the direction of the United Nations in relation to nuclear weapons." Afterwards, Itamaraty refused to accept our demarche points asking for clarification of Lula's remarks. (Ref N)
-- Terrorism and Iran, cont: Brazil twice failed to vote to issue international capture notices for the Iranians suspected of involvement in the AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994. Although the principal reason for their abstention probably had to do with their refusal to accept a link between the bombing and the Triborder Area, press reports and Argentine contacts speculate that Brazil wanted to avoid upsetting its relations with Iran after Iranian officials lobbied Brazilian officials prior to the vote. (Ref I)
-- Terrorism, cont: During his February 8-14, 2008 trip to the Middle East, Amorim took several opportunities to criticize U.S. policy, in particular the U.S. and the West's efforts to "isolate" "parties" to the peace process, among whom he included Hamas and Hizballah. This stance is particularly problematic considering the presence of elements of those groups within Brazilian territory and the latter's demonstrated capability to carry out terrorist operations in the region. (Ref F)
-- Possible Lula/Ahmadi-Nejad meeting: Itamaraty contacts have told us a meeting between the two presidents is inevitable and Lula himself confirmed his interest in visiting Tehran during Secretary Rice's March 2008 visit to Brasilia. In a January, Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture's Secretary for International Relations Celio Porto told the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce that Tehran was on the list of countries Lula would visit on his next Middle East trip.

------------------------------------------- Aggressive Iranian Diplomacy in the Region -------------------------------------------

7. (C) Brazil's increased engagement on Middle East issues comes at a time of intensified Iranian activities in South America and Brazil. Although trade-related discussions represent a substantial portion of the bilateral agenda--Brazilian exports to Iran, about US$1.8 billion in 2007, have almost quadrupled since Lula took office and account for about 30% of total Brazilian exports to the Middle East--Iran is keen to expnd their engagement with Brazil into non trade-reated areas. Brasilia has seen the visit of seveal high-level Iranian officials in the past 8 moths, including visits by the Iranian Supreme Councl for National Security's Muhammad Nahavandian, by Iranian Deputy Minister for Petroleum and former Ambassador to Brazil Dr. Mansour Moazami, and two visits by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Reza Sheikh-Attar, the last of which to take part in bilateral talks with Brazilian officials on a range of trade and political topics.

8. (C) When Iranian officials visit Brasilia, they make a point of extending their outreach to the legislative branch, holding talks with members of Congress to specifically make their case denying their non-compliance with UNSC resolutions and exhorting Brazil to join other South American countries friendly to Tehran in resisting pressure from the U.S. to support action against Iran. According to Senator Heraclito Fortes, chairman of the Foreign Relations and National Defense Committee, Sheikh-Attar visited Brasilia to press Brazil to join an anti-American bloc in South America

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composed of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela. These are also the countries that Sheikh-Attar usually visits during his trips to South America (Ref D). Two other influential Senators have approached U.S. Embassy officials to express concerns about Iranian activities in Brazil and to warn us of the dangers of Iranian efforts to fan anti-Americanism throughout South America (Refs K and M). Itamaraty contacts have also indicated that the Iranian Embassy as well as Iranian visitors waste no opportunity to press for a meeting between President Lula and President Ahmadi-Nejad--a meeting Itamaraty contacts have called "inevitable."

9. (U) Iran is also using soft power to engage Brazilian society. Visiting officials from Tehran usually conduct extensive press interviews to draw parallels between Brazil's peaceful nuclear energy program and their purported wish for a "peaceful" one for their own. The Iranian Embassy also arranges for visiting professors to provide lectures at the Catholic University of Brasilia several times a year.

--------------------------------------------- --------------- Key Year in Middle East Diplomacy: A Window of Opportunity? --------------------------------------------- ---------------

10. (C) Brazil currently is engaging in another round of intense Middle East activity, following on its attempt to step out of its traditional geopolitical comfort zone in 2005, when it organized and hosted the ASSA Summit. Already this year, Amorim traveled earlier this year to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, and Israel. He also participated in the late February Arab-South American foreign ministers' meeting in Buenos Aires. After that, Brazilian officials expect to receive visits of Syrian president Asad and the King of Jordan, plan to open new embassies in Oman and Qatar, hope to reach trade accords with Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, and seek to finish the long-delayed trade accord with the Gulf Cooperation Council. President Lula is also tentatively scheduled to travel to the Middle East in the second half of this year, with likely stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel (his first trip there), and the Palestinian territories. It is possible Lula will delay his travel to coincide with the ASSA Summit in Doha Qatar early next year.

9. (C) Itamaraty also has indicated that it intends to follow up on Lula's August 2007 letter to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas offering to form a Friends of Peace group with other interested countries, such as those in IBSA (India and South Africa), to seek further engagement in the peace process. Amorim also mooted his interest in hosting a conference for Israeli and Palestinian civil society leaders during the Annapolis meeting and in a subsequent meeting with Ambassador Sobel, although there are currently no specific plans on this front (Refs A and B).

10. (C) Despite Brazil's independent streak, often unhelpful actions, and frequently critical comments, in recent months we have noted a growing tendency among Brazilian officials to engage U.S. officials in broad discussion on Middle East issues, during which they never fail to tout their participation in the Annapolis conference and to thank us for being invited. Since Annapolis, high-level talks have included Secretary Rice, WHA A/S Shannon (Ref H), and S/P Dr. Gordon (Ref B), in addition to multiple conversations Ambassador Sobel and other Embassy officials have held with Amorim and other Itamaraty officials on Middle East issues (Refs A, C, E, F and J).

--------- Comment: ---------

11. (C) Brazil's unhelpful positions and sometimes inaccurate statements with regard to the Middle East muddy the waters

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for U.S. policy and interests in the Middle East. Moreover, as an increasingly influential global player with aspirations to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, Brazil is seeking to use its new alliances, such as the IBSA forum (India, Brazil, South Africa) and the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), to exert leadership on issues outside the geographical confines of those groupings. Finally, Brazil has real influence in the region. The Arab-South America Summit was a Brazilian initiative, and during the 2005 summit, many Latin American governments with little experience on issues related to Middle East peace deferred to Brazil as it negotiated and eventually caved to Arab countries on controversial language of the summit declaration (Refs O, P, and Q).

12. (C) On Iran, although Brazil is in no danger of falling into the Iranian "orbit", Brazil's almost obsessive interest in pursuing "balanced" relations tends to come at our expense, leading the GOB to stay neutral on such issues as Iranian support of Hizballah, Iranian activities in Iraq, and Tehran's flouting of UNSC resolutions, while remaining blind to aggressive Iranian moves in the region.

13. (C) Combined with the concern expressed by various Senators, we may be seeing a window opening up to bridge the gap in our Middle East dialogue with Brazil that should be taken advantage of while Brazil is focused on issues of strategic concern for the U.S. In a year when Brazil will engage in intense Middle East diplomacy we should seize the opportunity to try to steer Brazil away from its usual role of sideline sniper and make an attempt to recruit Brazil into a helpful or at least truly neutral role. Although we are aware that some briefings have occurr
d in Washington with individual players, we believe there would be immense value in a concerted effort here in Brazil to engage the full range of interested players within Brazilian society, from the executive and legislative branches, to academics, analysts, and other opinion-makers. We believe this to be a propitious time for a visit by subject matter experts from Washington to provide a detailed look at current U.S. efforts on the Palestine-Israeli track, Lebanon- and Syria-related issues, our policy with regards to Hamas and Hizballah, Iranian activities in Iraq and Iran's nuclear program. Although we are unlikely to persuade the GOB to take an approach fully in step with ours, it is critical to engage the GOB both to ensure they have a complete understanding of U.S. policy and concerns in the region, and to demonstrate that we take Brazil's leadership aspirations seriously. It is our hope that doing so will encourage Brazil to consult with the U.S. more frequently and will serve to minimize the least helpful aspects of current Brazilian policy toward the Middle East.


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