- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil will host a meeting of Latin America and Arab leaders, including new Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, in an effort to promote greater economic integration between the two regions and talk diplomatic goals.

But there are indications that the United States and Israel are concerned the summit could become a platform to attack U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East.

A summit declaration, to be released Wednesday, could strain relations between South America and the United States if it is seen to tacitly back groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas, which Washington classifies as terrorist organizations.

A draft copy of the declaration published in the Brazilian press raised expectations the meeting would criticize U.S. and Israeli use of force and back the rights of peoples to resist occupation.

“The positions and worries of Israel regarding the summit have been expressed directly to the government of Brazil and other South American governments,” the Israeli Embassy in Brazil said in a statement.

“We have made our concerns known to the Brazilian government about the importance of not doing anything to undermine the world’s shared goal of peace in the Middle East,” said a U.S. government official, who asked not to be named.

Twenty-two leaders and officials from Arab states and at least 10 of their counterparts from Latin America will meet during the last two days of the summit, which begins today and runs through Wednesday in Brasilia and which was the brainchild of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The leftist Brazilian leader first publicly proposed the idea of the two-region get-together during his five-nation tour of the Middle East in December 2003.

“It is time to change the commercial geography of the world,” said Mr. da Silva during his stop in Lebanon. “If we are alone, then none of us can compete with rich nations.”

Since assuming office in January 2003, the Brazilian president has traveled all over the world seeking to bolster Brazil’s trade ties with developing nations, most notably India and China, with whom he formed a strategic partnership of developing superpowers dubbed the G-3.

Just like Mr. da Silva’s visit to the Middle East in 2003, the upcoming summit is likely to raise eyebrows in the Bush administration. Not only will Washington take interest in seeing who is dealing with whom, but how successful those talks are in brokering lasting deals, particularly at a time when the United States is trying to restart stalled talks on the creation of a free-trade bloc for the Western Hemisphere.

The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas co-led by the United States and Brazil was supposed to be implemented by the beginning of 2005. But concerns regarding restricted access to U.S. markets and subsidies expressed by several Latin American leaders, Mr. da Silva included, have stymied the talks. The FTAA would include every nation in the hemisphere except Cuba.

A U.S. State Department official said the administration welcomed the idea of “positive dialogue” between the two nations and said that the State Department supported the idea of leaders from the Palestinian territories and Iraq attending the meeting. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to attend the summit.

The South American leaders and representatives scheduled to attend the summit are from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, French Guiana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Ecuador’s new president, Alfredo Palacio, won’t attend owing to ongoing tension at home after last month’s dismissal of former President Lucio Gutierrez. Suriname President Ronald Venetiaan is reportedly staying home to campaign for re-election later this month.

The Arab leaders scheduled to attend are from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Tunisia.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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