The U.S. And Brazil Need Each Other More Than Ever

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on March 18
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on March 18
Marcos Troyjo


SAO PAULO — The just-concluded Summit of the Americas in Panama was hailed as historic because it was the first time since the gathering began that both Cuba and the United States were present. And yet, there’s plenty of room for disappointment. The gathering of heads of state could have been even more significant and made a bigger regional impact.

But for that to happen, it would have been crucial to see the relationship between Brazil and the United States as an absolute priority and the main line of power and prosperity in the Americas.

Brazil’s foreign policy choices have proved to be fruitless. The Mercosur free trade bloc of South American countries is adrift. Deals with European countries are still uncertain. Falling raw material prices abroad, mostly oil, are pushing Brazil to seek economic alternatives. The U.S. market is the perfect place for Brazil to anchor exports income.

Meanwhile, the U.S. can’t afford to underestimate Brazil, the world's second largest democracy, which also has the second biggest GDP in the Americas. China is taking Washington for a ride. The fact that so many traditional U.S. allies have joined forces with Beijing in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, despite Washington's warnings, should encourage the United States to look once again to Latin America, where China has also established a strong foothold.

But wasted potential is what defines Brazil-U.S. relations best. Given the absence of any major bilateral business, the importance of the Snowden revelations that President Dilma Rousseff’s communications were being monitored was largely exaggerated. Instead of using the incident as leverage to obtain advantages from the world’s largest economy, Rousseff and Brazil opted instead to offer the cold shoulder.

Photo: Liu Bin/Xinhua/ZUMA

It was a strategic miscalculation. The spying episode further delayed what could have been an ambitious trade and investment agenda.

The potential for cooperation between the U.S. and Brazil is immense, from investments and technology exchanges, to tourism and the United Nations. The case of trade is a striking example. Brazil now exports $25 billion in goods to the United States every year. China, on the other hand, sends the U.S. more more than 20 times that sum annually.

The chitchat on the margins of Panama's Summit of the Americas may have helped rebuild the bridge between the Palácio do Planalto and the White House. But merely reigniting conversation, or offering to mediate Washington's tortuous relations with Venezuela, doesn't represent a great enough contribution to what has to be Brazil's primary interest, namely to develop its economic relationship with the United States.

At the highest level, we need to state loud and clear our predisposition to work for a trade deal with the United States, whether bilaterally or together with other partners.

Rousseff is facing difficult times ahead with the implementation of an amended fiscal policy. Obama needs to deal with a Republican congressional majority that doesn’t guarantee him automatic support for some of his foreign policy initiatives — for instance, with Cuba, Iran, or even the mega commercial deals in the Atlantic and Pacific.

Resuming a relationship between Brazil and the United States will be a long and difficult task. But what's important now is to press the "restart" button.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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