Cablegate: Ahmadinejad Visit Readout: A Well-Scripted Affair

DE RUEHBR #1368/01 3291906
P 251906Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2019


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Classified By: Acting Charge D'Affaires Cherie Jackson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (SBU) This message covers our initial readout of the visit to Brazil by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Follow-up messages will be sent once we obtain a more in-depth readout of the conversation between President Lula and President Ahmadinejad.

Summary -------

2. (C) President Lula welcomed President Ahmadinejad to Brazil on November 23, calling him a "good friend" and publicly supporting Iran's right to a nuclear program for civilian use, but declined public comment on the actual aims of Iran's nuclear program, the IAEA/P5 1 proposal, or the state of democracy and human rights in Iran. Ahmadinejad's public comments were relatively restrained, including a lengthy endorsement of Brazil's main goal -- UN Security Council reform and a permanent UNSC seat for Brazil. He also said of the 5 1 offer that Iran "in principle agrees with the proposal presented," before backtracking. Ahmadinejad and Lula met privately for three hours, but we have no solid information yet about their conversation. The visit featured the signing of several expected bilaterals, including agreements to promote commercial cooperation and to exempt diplomatic passport holders of certain visa requirements. Ahmadinejad's visit illustrated critical foreign policy differences between Lula's PT and other political parties; front-running 2010 presidential candidate Jose Serra (PSDB) wrote an editorial opposing the visit. A planned early evening speech by Ahmadinejad in a local university was canceled, in part because the crowd was hostile and security precautions were weak. End summary.

Three-Hour Meeting ------------------

3. (C) After arriving late morning, Ahmadinejad spoke with President Lula in Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Relations, or MRE) for three hours before advancing to the press conference. (Note: In part, the length of the meeting might be due to the necessity of interpreting from Farsi to English to Portuguese and back again throughout. End note.) MRE officials have told us that, as is standard for such meetings, no one at MRE below Foreign Minister Celso Amorim was present for any length of time. In a conversation with poloff the following day, Ricardo Luis Pires Ribeiro, Iran/Central Asia Desk Director and control officer for the Ahmadinejad visit, expressed confidence based on his post-visit conversations with Lula's staff that the President of Brazil had pressed Ahmadinejad to accept the 5 1 proposal and that "progress had been made." Pires saw Lula when he emerged from the meeting with Ahmadinejad, visibly tired, to tell his staff he was "satisfied" with the conversation.

Press Conference ----------------

4. (SBU) During the late afternoon press conference, Lula made clear that Brazil "defends the right of Iran to develop and enrich uranium for the production of energy for peaceful purposes," pointing out that Brazil is defending the same rights for itself as it develops its own civilian nuclear technology. He also emphasized that nuclear disarmament and civilian technology must advance together. Lula encouraged Iran to continue talking with the international community to reach a solution with regard to its nuclear program. He did not offer any value judgments on the actual status or aims of Iran's nuclear programs, nor did he make any statements endorsing or otherwise evaluating the 5 1 proposal. Nor did Lula directly address the health of democracy and human rights in Iran, although he did make several general statements about human rights and tolerance in his remarks at the joint press event that were clearly designed to appease critics of Iran's human rights record.

5. (C) Ahmadinejad's public statement was also relatively restrained, emphasizing the need for UN Security Council reform -- including a permanent UNSC seat for Brazil -- and IMF reforms, among other objectives. His public remarks were much milder than the prepared remarks sent by the Iranian Embassy to the media the previous night, which blamed the United States for a multitude of sins and strongly suggested

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Brazilian solidarity in these views. Pires said that Itamaraty had been alarmed upon seeing those remarks, and that Lula in turn agreed to press Ahmadinejad during the meeting to tone down his comments at the joint press conference. The result was a speech that often sounded unrehearsed, spoke in generalities, and criticized "the west" rather than specific nations.

6. (SBU) Only one question was permitted from the media -- a question about the aims of Iran's nuclear program -- which Lula promptly deflected to Ahmadinejad without giving a substantive answer. Ahmadinejad spoke at length, claiming that Iran had met all IAEA requirements and asserting Iran's preferred solution to purchase fuel to enrich uranium. He later said that Iran "in principle agrees with the (P5 1) proposal presented," and that the Iranian government "wants to finalize an accord." He then backtracked, issuing a series of vague complaints about hegemomy and imperialism, and blaming the various actions of past U.S. presidents for creating Iran's current predicament. Ahmadinejad generally stayed on the joint Iran-Brazilian message about the right to nuclear enrichment for peaceful means.

Voices of Dissent -----------------

7. (C) The President of Iran's visit provoked several demonstrations from civilian groups across the country, including in Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Curitiba, and Florianopolis. The Jewish, Baha'i, and GLBT communities were most prominent, often protesting together. Ahmadinejad had been scheduled to address students in the early evening at a local Brasilia university, IESB, in an event roughly modeled on the 2007 Ahmadinejad engagement at Columbia University. According to Pires, MRE recommended canceling shortly before the engagement upon finding that the 1,000 students waiting in line included a large number of protestors and that the police had not properly vetted the site for security concerns until the morning of the visit. After returning to his hotel, Ahmadinejad apparently still planned to attend but later changed his mind and held another short press conference at his hotel, in which he made more pointed remarks about the United States, Israel, the Holocaust, and other topics.

What the Ahmadinejad Visit Reveals About Brazilian Politics --------------------------------------------- --------------

8. (SBU) The Ahmadinejad visit revealed sharp differences in foreign policy world views among Brazilian political parties, which figure to help shape Brazil's approach to Iran after the October 2010 presidential and congressional elections. On November 23, front-running presidential contender Jose Serra (PSDB) published an editorial in Sao Paulo's Folha newspaper strongly criticzing Ahmadinejad's visit. In his op-ed Serra drew contrasts with Lula by characterizing Iran's recent presidential elections as fraudulent, condemning Iranian support of terrorist activities beyond its borders (including in Argentina), and arguing that Brazil must not undermine its case as an aspirant to a UNSC permanent seat by standing next to a government that does not meet its IAEA obligations. Other PSDB members were even more vocal against the visit, as was the center-right opposition Democratas (DEM) party.

9. (C) While members of Lula's Worker's Party (PT) defended the visit in public and in private conversations with us, often with mild reservations, other parties within the President's governing coalition have been decidedly less enthusiatic. Senate President Jose Sarney and Chamber of Deputies President Michel Temer, both from PMDB, the largest party in Congress, met briefly with Ahmadinejad; the discussion with Temer was frosty, with Sarney it was non-substantive. Chamber Presidency staff later told poloff that Temer did not want to do the meeting, calling it "a necessary matter of protocol but still embarrassing." He had been resigned to the meeting's eventuality after giving the green light for Israeli President Shimon Peres to speak to a joint session of Congress earlier in the month (Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits to be reported septel). Other leading figures within the governing coalition were more strongly negative, including Senator Francisco Dornelles (PP), who told poloff the visit was a "travesty."

Comment: A Qualified Success for Lula -------------------------------------

10. (C) Although the way both Ahmadinejad and Lula have handled previous visits created concern about what each might BRASILIA 00001368 003.2 OF 003 say, this visit turned out to be unexpectedly tame. Gone was the tone from the November 20 visit by President Abbas, when Lula blamed the United States for problems in the Middle East and said the USG should not be mediating discussion in the region. By taking the unusual step of sticking to the tight script provided by Itamaraty and his advisors, Lula was able to lay out Brazil's key foreign policy goals -- a UNSC permanent seat, development of a domestic nuclear program, and an increased profile in the world -- without raising further red flags. While we do not yet know the full content of Lula's three-hour discussion with Ahmadinejad, Brazil's apparent success in strongly reining in Ahmadinejad's prepared public discourse indicates that he took Lula's advice seriously. Lula and Itamaraty almost certainly achieved their own goals with the visit, but thee objectives have not been well communicated to he Brazilian public, media, or other political prties, nor is it likely that they will be in advance of Lula's planned visit to Iran, scheduled fo April 2010. Brazil's relations with Iran will reain a contentious issue domestically, which suggsts that the GOB's emerging friendship with Iranwill continue to be carefully qualified and open to revision. End comment.


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