- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva is learning what it’s like to deal in Middle East politics. At this week’s Summit of South American-Arab Countries held in Brasilia, Mr. da Silva was hard- pressed to keep his fledgling idea of a South American-Arab friendship together to reach any sort of agreement — economic, political or otherwise. At the beginning of the summit, which was comprised of 34 South American and Arab nations, the president expressed optimism: “We are facing an opportunity to build the foundation for a bridge of solid cooperation.” Of course, this being Middle East politics, “cooperation” extends about as far as one’s willingness to condemn the United States and Israel.

And to be sure, there was plenty of that to go around. Despite the summit’s focus on economic “bridge building,” the final draft of the “Declaration of Brasilia” included mandatory expressions of concern over the war in Iraq, U.S. sanctions against Syria and Israeli settlements. The only voice of moderation from the Arab end of the table seemed to come from newly elected Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who asked his neighbors to help combat terrorism.

Mr. da Silva’s Brazil is extending its influence into the snakepit of world politics. He understands that to play this game one must be willing to spew a certain level of anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric. This sort of talk can be politically beneficial in Brazil especially, which has a significant Arab population.

The reality, however, is that the Arab world has a negligible degree of influence in Latin America when compared to the United States, and Mr. da Silva’s relationship with the Bush administration is prospering and not worth sacrificing.

But the road cuts both ways. From the U.S. perspective, Brazil is a moderating element on a continent where socialist politicians flourish. Before her tour of Latin American countries late last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged this relationship: “I think it is a fact that Brazil is a regional power, and, in fact, Brazil is a growing global presence, and we think that’s a good thing.” It’s good because the alternative to the leftist Mr. da Silva is the authoritarian Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the next biggest player on the continent. Mr. Chavez, an outspoken opponent of the United States, has formed a chummy relationship with Fidel Castro and is trying to work the same with Arab nations.

So, if the Arab world does get more involved in South American affairs, better it be under the auspices of Mr. da Silva than Mr. Chavez. It would be better still if the United States could establish a stronger voice in its own backyard.

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