- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2019

When Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro slammed “fake news” Tuesday, President Trump beamed like a proud father.

Mr. Trump responded with some of his most effusive praise, saying he will designate Brazil as a special “non-NATO ally” to the U.S. and may even try to get the South American nation invited to fully join the Northern Hemisphere’s most successful security alliance.

“The relationship we have right now with Brazil has never been better,” Mr. Trump said from the Oval Office. “I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There’s zero hostility with me.”

Mr. Bolsonaro, the “Trump of the Tropics,” swept into Washington this week hoping to lock down the role of Mr. Trump’s global sidekick. He seemed to ace the test, serving as Mr. Trump’s echo in cheering his push for freer trade, taking a tough line on Venezuela and socialism, and pushing back on political correctness.

Most notably, the South American said he fully expects Mr. Trump to win again in 2020.

“I think everyone will repeat their vote here in America,” Mr. Bolsonaro said during a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

“I agree,” Mr. Trump said.

The U.S. president praised Mr. Bolsonaro’s toughness after a knife attack during last year’s campaign and spotlighted Mr. Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, on the world stage, saying he stepped up while his father recovered.

A Brazilian leader hasn’t met with a U.S. president since 2015, when President Obama welcomed President Dilma Rousseff. At the time, leaders were trying to repair relations after Ms. Rousseff canceled a 2013 trip upon learning the U.S. government snooped on her electronic communications.

Mr. Bolsonaro, who became president Jan. 1, picked the U.S. as the site of his first major bilateral visit abroad, signaling his intent to make the U.S., via Mr. Trump, his best friend in the Western Hemisphere and reset ties between the large democracies.

Mr. Bolsonaro laid the groundwork for his visit during last year’s campaign, imitating Mr. Trump’s no-holds-barred style while vowing to tackle regulations, limit immigration and stamp out crime.

Mr. Trump took notice.

“They say he’s the Donald Trump of South America. Do you believe that? And he’s happy with that. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t like the country so much. But I like him,” Mr. Trump said during the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in New Orleans in January.

On Tuesday, standing side-by-side, both men said the courtship was starting to pay off.

Mr. Bolsonaro said he’s willing to exempt Americans from tourist-visa requirements and let U.S. companies conduct space launches from his country. Even as the White House picks trade fights elsewhere, Brazil is set to import 750,000 tons of American wheat, while the U.S. eyes importation of pork and beef in exchange.

The two reiterated their commitment to nudging aside Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, who has been blamed for widespread poverty, hunger and power outages in the Brazilian neighbor. Yet they were coy about using military might, should Mr. Maduro continue to refuse to give way to Juan Guaido, the National Assembly leader who declared himself the interim president.

Mr. Trump was clearer about Brazil’s status vis-a-vis the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, saying he intends to designate the country as a “major non-NATO ally.”

The status would give the South American nation special privileges, such as better access to purchases of U.S. military equipment and quicker export processing. Seventeen countries enjoy the status, and Brazil would be the second Latin American country, after Argentina, to receive the designation.

The U.S. president suggested even bigger things may be in store.

“Have to talk to a lot of people, but maybe a NATO ally,” Mr. Trump said.

The leaders capped the friendship with the ultimate sign of Brazilian friendship — an exchange of soccer jerseys.

The White House gave Mr. Bolsonaro a U.S. national team shirt, while Mr. Trump received a No. 10 Brazil shirt — the number Pele donned as a three-time World Cup winner.

“You know, Brazil is a great, great soccer power and a great country,” Mr. Trump said. “They have great, great players. I can still remember Pele and so many others.”

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