Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Why the US and Brazil Can’t Get Along—A Story of Turf, Ideology, and Interests

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on March 2, 2011

by Peter Hakim for Inter-American Dialogue, March 1st, 2011.

Brazil’s outsized global aspirations and its newly acquired diplomatic weight were on full view in Tehran last May. That was when Brazilian President Lula da Silva triumphantly announced that he and his Turkish counterpart had persuaded Iran to shift a major part of its uranium enrichment program overseas—an objective that had previously eluded the US and other world powers. Washington, however, was not applauding. Secretary of State Clinton’s reaction was quick and disapproving.  She angrily condemned both Brazil and Turkey for pursuing the negotiations, which she saw as threatening to the fragile agreement among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to impose new sanctions on Iran for violating its nuclear treaty obligations. What Lula claimed as a negotiating success was viewed in Washington as irresponsible and unhelpful meddling by Brazil.

As Lula, Brazil’s most widely admired president ever, prepares to leave office, US-Brazilian ties are deeply strained—by disputes over Iran and a range of other matters—and need close attention. The country’s new president, Dilma Rouseff (or Dilma as she is universally known), who takes charge on January 1, will not find it easy to repair the damage and build toward a more productive and trustful bilateral relationship.  In the past two years, the two governments have openly clashed over many issues as Brazil has sought to expand and consolidate its ambitious international role. Despite a still large reservoir of genuine good will between the countries, the situation may worsen in the coming period. How adroitly and carefully Dilma and her advisors manage Brazil’s foreign policy will surely affect the quality of the country’s  relations with the US. So will the importance that the Obama administrations assigns to Brazil and the care with which he and his policy team conduct US-Brazilian diplomacy.

Still, it is almost inevitable that Brazil and the US will, for some years to come, be bumping up against one another in this hemisphere and worldwide. They both have a central stake in global politics and a deep concern about the world’s problems. Their policies and agendas, however, will reflect their divergent interests, priorities, and approaches to international affairs. They will certainly not always be able find common ground or keep their disagreements in check. At least on some issues, tension between them are sure to increase. Indeed, on most matters, the US-Brazil relationship will involve both conflict and cooperation—as do US ties with other global actors like China, Russia, India, and Japan as well as many European nations. (continue reading… )

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