- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
A series of cables released today reveal that U.S. diplomats were alarmed by Brazil’s forays into Mideast diplomacy, long before last year’s unsuccessful nuclear deal with Iran and the recognition of the Palestinian state.
A March 2005 cable concerns a visit that former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim made to the Middle East in preparation for that year’s Arab-South American summit. Amorim snubbed an invitation by the Israeli government to pay a visit, instead spending 24 hours in the Palestinian territories. The U.S. Embassy in Brasilia writes:
The [Brazilian Foreign Ministry], we believe, underestimated the sensitivities aroused by its somewhat ham-handed diplomacy, yet are unwilling to acknowledge that the Summit and Amorim’s ill-conceivd visit to the region could undermine the Middle East peace process at a delicate and promising moment.
A December 2008 cable expresses concern over former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s strong criticism of the Israeli invasion of Gaza:
Brazil’s initial reaction might have given reason for hope for a more balanced approach to Middle East peace issues if it had not been followed up by the usual one-sided posture of laying most of the blame at Israel and taking potshots at the U.S. for not doing more to stop Israel. The clich-laden bromides of Brazilian officials are also indicative of a lack of real understanding of the Middle East that is troubling in a government that proposes to become involved.
Brazil’s increasingly close relationship with Iran was also a matter of concern in the Bush-era State Department. A July 2008 cable worries that Brazil’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" and that "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."
Under the section heading, "Whether we like it or not: Brazil in the Middle East," the cable goes on to speculate about what Brazil’s growing influence on the world stage will mean for Mideast diplomacy:
Brazil’s unhelpful positions and sometimes inaccurate statements with regard to the Middle East muddy the waters 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…
During a panel discussion at FP‘s Global Thinkers’ gala in December — which coincided with the first week of Cablegate releases, Amorim jokingly complained that Brazil wasn’t very prominently featured in the cables then released compared with co-panelist Ahmet Davutoglu‘s Turkey. Given Amorim’s interest in Mideast diplomacy and how it reflected his overall vision of a Brazilian foreign policy independent of Washington’s influence, he’ll probably take these latest cables as a compliment.