February 27, 2010
Brazil-Iran Foreign Relations
Reaction to June 2009 Iranian Presidential Election:
Although the Brazilian government did not immediately announce the issuing of a letter of congratulations to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his re-election in June 2009, Brazilian President Lula da Silva did felicitate his Iranian counterpart following the latter’s inauguration in August 2009. Lula da Silva expressed his hope for expanded relations between Iran and Brazil, stating that "I believe the visit of the Iranian President to Brazil and my return visit will play a significant role in expansion of ties between the two countries." Despite these congratulatory remarks from the Brazilian president, some Brazilian officials had earlier welcomed the street protests that followed the election. In the words of Marco Aurelio Garcia, an adviser on international relations, the post-election protests were a "good sign", demonstrating the vibrancy of "democratic life" in Iran. For his part, the Brazilian minister of human rights, Paulo Vannuchi, stated that he was "rooting" for Ahmadinejad's rivals, saying "When I saw [in] the news that there was a reformist candidate, our support obviously went to him."
Brazilian interest in supporting Iran’s nuclear program dates from the early 1990s when it considered selling equipment from its own failed program to Iran until the United States stepped in to prevent the deal. In recent years, Brazil has continued to engage in normal state relations with Iran despite sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program; Brasilia’s stated position is that the International Atomic Energy Agency, not the UN Security Council or independent powers, should resolve the dispute over the program.  In September 2007, Brazil’s President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva said that “Iran has the right to proceed with peaceful nuclear research and should not be punished just because of Western suspicions it wants to make an atomic bomb.…So far, Iran has committed no crime regarding the U.N. guidelines on nuclear weapons."  The government’s view was reaffirmed in November 2008 when Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stated that “Brazil does not recognize unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran, whether by the United States or the European Union, [and] the Iranian government should fully cooperate with the agency because it is the best way to avoid sanctions.”
During July 2009 public hearings on Iran, held by the Brazilian Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense, Political Undersecretary of the Ministry on External Relations Roberto Jaguaribe stated that "Iran does not have the atom bomb, but it has a well-advanced program. It is not in a position today to develop the bomb.”
In July 2009, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman embarked on a ten-day visit to several Latin American countries, including Brazil. Speaking at a press conference with President Lula da Silva and Celso Amorim, Lieberman insisted that Brazil use its influence to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Lula da Silva responded by apparently criticizing Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, stating that "Brazil would like all countries to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty" and would like to see the Middle East “free of nuclear weapons.”
In late November 2009, the IAEA issued a rebuke to Iran for building a second enrichment plan in secret. Brazil, along with 5 other countries, abstained from voting, however. The resolution by the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors calls on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and immediately freeze the construction of its Fordo nuclear facility, located near Qom. Brazilian IAEA Ambassador Antonio Guerreiro explained the abstention, saying “the resolution clears the way for sanctions and sanctions will only lead to a hardening of the Iranian position.” Ahmadinejad responded to the results of the IAEA resolution vote saying that any sanctions would have a minimal effect and that the world powers would not think about launching an attack on Iran.
In February 2010, after speculation that Brazil could be involved in direct bilateral talks to provide Iran with high-grade uranium, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said, “at no time in conversations held with Iran was enrichment of Iranian ministerial discussed.” Shortly thereafter, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva announced that the global community, in its quest for peace, should avoid isolating Iran over its controversial nuclear program: “Peace in the world does not mean isolating someone,” Lula said at a press conference during a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders.
In late February 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a tour of Latin America that included Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. A week before her departure Clinton announced, “I’m on my way to Latin America next week. And Iran is at the top of my agenda.”
Also in late February 2010, as Western countries hoped for a unified international effort to support a new United Nations resolution imposing further sanctions against Iran, four countries including Brazil, Turkey, Lebanon, and China signaled that they may abstain from voting. A new resolution would need only nine of the Security Council’s 15 votes to pass, but the abstentions would be seen as a blow because U.S. officials and their allies want to convince Iran that it faces economic and political isolation from all sides if it continues work on its nuclear program.
On March 3, 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Brasilia for talks aimed at convincing senior Brazilian officials to back new punitive measures against Iran’s suspicious nuclear program. Clinton said:
“It has been found to be a violation by the International Atomic Energy Agency and by the United Nations Security Council. These are not findings by the US. These are findings by the international community… It is going to be the topic of the United Nations Security Council. So I want to be sure [President Silva] has the same understanding that we do as to how this matter is going to unfold.”
After their meeting, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stated in Clinton’s presence that Brazil does not support Iran sanctions at this time, saying “we still have some possibility of coming to an agreement… but that may require a lot of flexibility on both sides. We will not simply bow down to the evolving consensus if we do not agree.” Clinton continued to argue that Iran has shown it will not negotiate without sanctions, saying “once the international community speaks in unison around a resolution, then the Iranians will talk and begin to negotiate. We want to get to negotiations; we just think that the best path is through the Security Council.” Despite Clinton’s appeals, Brazil did not make any moves to support UN sanctions.
In March 2010, Brazil and Germany differed sharply on whether to threaten Iran with fresh United Nations Sanctions in a bid to rein in its disputed nuclear program. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle said after talks here they agreed it was crucial to allow the creation of a new nuclear power, but clashed on the issue of sanctions.
Also in March, Senior British Foreign Office Official Nicholas Hopton gave a ‘very direct message’ pressuring Brazil to drop its support of Iran and back sanctions against Tehran in the UN Security Council vote. Hopton argued that “this is a crucial moment for Brazil to stand up and be counted and show that it is ready to take on the responsibilities of a Security Council member and to take the difficult decision to support sanctions.”
In April 2010, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met with Chinese and Indian leaders on the sidelines of a BRIC summit; that is a summit involving the group of related economies found in Brazil, Russia, Indian and China. Da Silva stated that there is an “affinity between Brazil’s opposition to new sanctions on Iran” and the positions taken by China and Indian concerning this issue.
In May 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on his website that he is in favor of Brazil playing a meditative role in nuclear negotiations. This announcement was made subsequent to a mediation proposal put forward by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
In May 2010, the P5+1, that is Russia, Germany, Britain, France, China, and the U.S., reached a new agreement regarding sanctions against Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described this agreement as a “strong draft” of a resolution. The new agreement, with the change in Russian and Chinese decision to sign on to a new round of sanctions, came after Brazil and Turkey brokered a nuclear swap deal with Iran. The Turkey-Brazil proposal would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a considerably high level of purity, that is, higher than levels permitted by international law.
Brazil and Iran began expanding their bilateral economic relations in the early 1990s. Beyond regular trade links, the two began trading foodstuffs and discussed cooperating in joint infrastructure developments.  Despite the vast reserves of oil and natural gas that both countries possess, cooperation in the 1990s did not extend far into the energy sector, though the two began discussing such cooperation early in their relationship.  In 2003, the National Iranian Oil Company granted Brazil’s Petrobras rights to explore Iran’s vast offshore oil reserves in the Persian Gulf. Petrobras signed a second, larger exploration deal with Iran in 2004 for $34 million to drill in the Caspian Sea. The two countries have since continued to cooperate in the energy sector through government-owned companies and high-level state-to-state discussion. 
Beyond state-level cooperation in energy, Brazilian companies have also found ways to circumvent the trade sanctions that the UN Security Council placed on Iran. Using a triangular trade network, Brazilian goods stop in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), before entering Iran. Sugar and beef are two of the most significant commodities travelling from Brazil to Iran in this fashion. The Brazilian Ambassador to the UAE also revealed to Brazil’s newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo, that he had provided Iranian businessmen in the UAE with visas to travel to Brazil. According to one trader interviewed by O Estado de Sao Paulo, "nobody knows exactly how much beef and other Brazilian products are sold to Iran via Dubai. But taking into consideration that there is no local beef production and that there are significant exports of that product from Dubai to Iranian ports, one imagines that these products could only come from Brazil." Through triangular trade and direct bilateral trade in all sectors, Brazilian-Iranian trade totaled over $1.5 billion in 2007, mostly in the form of Iranian imports, since Brazil does not need Iran’s primary exports thanks to its own hydrocarbon resources.
Economic cooperation has helped pave the way for the developing diplomatic relations between the two countries. Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Brasil in May 2009 to discuss their economic cooperation. Ahmadinejad accepted and promised to bring a large delegation of private Iranian businessmen and economic advisors. The day before his departure amid the presidential election preparations, Ahmadinejad cancelled without providing any details to his Brazilian hosts, however.
During a May 2009 meeting with Chairman of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines Mohammad Nahavandian and Iran's Ambassador to Brazil Mohsen Shaterzadeh, Brazilian Minister of External Relations Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim described Iran as being the “new geographic partner in our country's policy.” Amorim credited the expansion of ties between Brazil and Iran as being the product of President Lula da Silva’s efforts, claiming that the Brazilian president “has defined a new geography in an effort to diversify Brazil's economic and trade ties." Speaking at the same May 2009 meeting, Nahavandian highlighted measures that could potentially “play [a] favorable role in expansion of relations,” including the “formation of joint maritime companies as well as establishment of a direct airline from Sao Paulo to Tehran."
In late May 2009, Israeli news website Ynet obtained a detailed dossier drafted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Iran’s activities in South America. The report, which is based on information gathered by Israeli and foreign military and diplomatic sources around the world, claimed that Iran had begun building friendships in Latin America as early as 1982. The Foreign Ministry report claimed that particularly “since Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, Tehran has been promoting an aggressive policy aimed at bolstering its ties with Latin American countries with the declared goal of ‘bringing America to its knees.’” The Ministry also detailed the economic ties between Tehran and South America. The Israeli Foreign Ministry estimated that trade between Brazil and Iran was about $1 billion annually at the time estimated.
In October 2009, the head of the Iran-Brazil Friendship Association, Mir Qassem Momeni, announced that “the Iran-Brazil Friendship Association in coordination with the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran will dispatch a marketing and trade delegation to Brazil in December.” Momeni also said “development of ties with Brazil could be useful in resolving the existing problems between Latin America and the Middle East, given Brazil’s economic, political, cultural roles in Latin America and Iran’s role in Asia.”
In November 2009, Ahmadinejad visited Bolivia, Brazil, and Venezuela to try to bolstering political ties with sympathetic governments in an effort to counter international pressure on the Iranian nuclear program. Ahmadinejad and Lula da Silva announced a trade volume goal of $25 billion with increased cooperation and relations between Iran and Brazil particularly in industry, trade, energy and technology.
Also in November 2009, however, Petrobras International Director Jorge Zelada said that the company was studying an end of its activities in Iran because discoveries it had made there were not commercially viable. Zelada stressed that the decision to leave was not motivated by political pressures, saying “it’s a strictly technical evaluation.”
In December 2009, International Monetary Fund (IMF) data analyzed by the Latin Business Chronicle confirmed that Iran-Latin American trade soared 209% in 2008, totaling in $2.9 billion. According to the IMF data, Brazil remains Iran’s main trading partner and exporter in Latin America at a total of $1.26 billion in 2008, up 88% from the previous year. Neither Brazil nor Iran has published statistics on their bilateral trade, however.
In April 2010, the president of Brazilian oil giant, Petrobras, announced that in spite of the current lack of investments in Iran, they plan to keep their offices there. It was reported that in recent years Petrobras has invested some $30 million in oil development; however, the test wells have failed to provide commercially viable volumes.
Brazil and Iran have enjoyed increasingly close political relations over the years, growing with the volume of bilateral trade and economic cooperation. In November 2008, Brazil invited Ahmadinejad to visit Iran, and Iran invited Brazil to join the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.  Although Ahmadinejad promised to visit Brasilia in May 2009 along with a delegation of over 100 people including many representatives of Iranian private industry, he canceled the visit a day before it was scheduled to begin. In addition to rhetorical support for Iran’s nuclear program despite growing international criticism of the program, Brazilian officials have also overlooked the steady flow of Brazilian goods into Iran that violate trade sanctions enacted by the UN Security Council. 
During July 2009 public hearings on Iran held by the Brazilian Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense, Political Undersecretary of the Ministry on External Relations Roberto Jaguaribe emphasized the strategic importance of Iran-Brazil relations. Jaguaribe warned against the political isolation of Iran which, according to him, “serves only to radicalize positions." The political undersecretary also spoke of the June 2009 re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stating that a “genuine election was held in Iran; it was not a make-believe affair designed to comply with the formalities of a democracy.”[62
In July 2009, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman visited Brazil in what was viewed as an attempt to counter Iranian influence in the region. Iranian Ambassador to Brazil Mohsen Shaterzadeh reacted to the visit by stating that "[a]t the moment, the Israeli regime is known as a racist government that has the blood of Palestinians on its hands. The regime has even lost its close friends." Head of the Iran-Brazil Parliamentary Friendship Group Hamid Reza Haji Babaei highlighted the strength of bilateral ties in August 2009, describing what he viewed as the significant role that the two countries’ relationship plays in the world. Haji Babaei also expressed his group’s readiness to help expand and improve mutual relations between Iran and Brazil.
In November 2009, Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Brazil in hopes of strengthening the Israel-Brazil relationship with specific regard to their worries of Iran’s influence in the region. Ahmadinejad announced he will also visit Brazil immediately after Peres’ visit. In October 2009, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger told Brazilian Senate President (and former President) Jose Sarney, that for Israel, “it was a very sorry situation that Brazil was willing to receive someone who publicly states that he wants to destroy our country.” Later that month, when Ahmadinejad arrived in Brazil at the start of his South American tour intended to increase ties with friendly governments in the face of increasing international pressure against the Iranian nuclear program, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Sao Paulo and Rid de Janeiro to denounce Ahmadinejad'’s record on human rights and his position towards Israel. After their meeting, Ahmadinejad and Lula da Silva spoke to reporters underlining that the prospects of relations between Iran and Brazil are quite bright in various fields and they emphasized that the existing potentials need to be exploited to further expand relations and cooperation between Iran and Brazil. Lula da Silva called Iran and Brazil “two major and large countries with identical development models” adding that “Tehran-Brasilia relations would be strong with great objectives to be achieved.”
In December 2009, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Latin American countries against becoming too closely involved with Iran—saying that it could have diplomatic consequences for them— Chavez responded saying that these remarks were “an overt threat, especially at Venezuela and Bolivia.” The Bolivian Foreign Ministry also voiced criticism for Clinton’s remarks. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast responded by saying that the comments infringed on accepted diplomatic norms.