Thursday, April 18, 2024

WORLD | 16-02-2024 13:03

Anthony Blinken to make first trips to Brazil, Argentina as Lula leads G20

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make first official visits to Brazil and Argentina while in region for G20 meeting of foreign ministers.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken next week pays his first official visits to Brazil and Argentina, the US State Department said Friday, as he looks for common ground with the Latin American powers' independent-minded leaders.

Blinken will hold talks in the capitals Brasilia and Buenos Aires and also take part in a Group of 20 meeting of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro where he could have rare in-person interaction with his Russian counterpart.

For the globe-trotting top US diplomat, it has been a striking absence to go more than three years into his tenure without visiting Brazil, the Western Hemisphere's most populous country after the United States.

But Brazil was led until early 2023 by far-right Jair Bolsonaro, one of the closest international allies of Donald Trump.

Leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva returned to power last year and shortly afterward headed to Washington for talks with President Joe Biden, with the two veteran politicians prioritising action on climate change, labor rights and democratic values at home.

Blinken, in the Brazilian-led G20 meetings, will discuss "increasing peace and stability, promoting social inclusion, reducing inequality" as well as efforts to support violence-wracked Haiti, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in announcing the trip. 

But Lula, previously present from 2003 through 2010, has a strong independent streak and has distanced himself from Biden's push to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Bruna Santos, director of the Wilson Center's Brazil Institute, said the Biden team has come to understand from Lula's first year that "they can be good friends, allies sometimes, but not allies at other times."

She said that while the United States has come to understand Brazil's stance on Ukraine, Lula has been strikingly silent on Venezuela, where leftist leader Nicolás Maduro's refusal to allow opposition election candidates has triggered a snapback of some US sanctions.

Beyond the past with Bolsonaro, Brazilians feel the Biden administration has less interest in Latin America, especially with its focus on Ukraine and the Middle East, she said.

"There is the sense that the relationship doesn't live up to its potential and it's not being treated as a priority," she said.


Forum for US-Russia?

Lula has previously said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Western powers bore some responsibility for the war with Russia.

Lula earlier also promised Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing an International Criminal Court arrest warrant, that he would be safe if he visited Rio for the G20 summit in November, although he later backtracked and said it would be up to Brazil's judiciary.

Putin did not visit last year's G20 summit in New Delhi, even though India, unlike Brazil, is not part of the Hague-based court.

At the last G20 foreign ministers' meeting in New Delhi in March 2023, Blinken held his only one-on-one in-person meeting, albeit briefly, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov since the Ukraine invasion.

The United States has argued that Russia is not serious about negotiations but Biden's support for Ukraine has been weakened by a deadlock in Congress on approving new war funding, with Trump, seeking a comeback, musing that Russia is destined to win.

Bolsonaro, in a parallel to Trump, is facing serious legal problems with police investigating whether he and his inner circle orchestrated a coup attempt when rioters swarmed government buildings in Brasilia after Lula's inauguration.

Argentina's President Javier Milei, who took office in December, has also drawn parallels to Trump with his abrasive style, anti-establishment comments and calls for a war on socialism, and the former US president congratulated him on his win.

The Biden administration has nonetheless had less reluctance to work with Milei than Bolsonaro, seeing the Argentine leader as idiosyncratic but not anti-democratic. 

Blinken, who has made five trips to the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas war, will also find a rare enthusiastic backer of Israel in the Argentine leader.

Milei visited Israel this month on his first state visit and has promised to move Argentina's Embassy to Jerusalem, a step taken only by the United States and four small countries.

by Shaun Tandon, AFP


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