Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seeking a new source of legitimacy while making his first visit to Brazil, a nation that maintains close ties to the U.S., Israel and other countries trying to halt Iran's nuclear push.
The Iranian leader is set to meet privately Monday with Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who called it an honor to receive Ahmadinejad and defended Iran's right to develop nuclear energy. It's a much-craved pat on the back from a moderate nation as Ahmadinejad faces intense internal and external political pressure.
"With Brazil he gets more bang for his buck in the sense you're getting legitimacy from a more mainstream player," said Daniel Brumberg, an Iran expert at the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace. "One would hope Brazil's diplomacy would be skillful enough to get certain types of messages across to the Iranians and not just give Ahmadinejad the red-carpet treatment," The Associated Press reports.
The first visit to Brazil by an Iranian head of state has generated two protests in the last week in which thousands of demonstrators, many of them Jews alarmed by Ahmadinejad's views on the Holocaust and on Israel, took to the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Protests in May forced Ahmadinejad to cancel a scheduled visit.
The controversial Iranian leader, who is also visiting Venezuela, Bolivia, Gambia and Senegal, said Sunday upon boarding a plane in Tehran that he hopes to help spearhead a new global order in cooperation with Latin America and Africa.
In Brazil, Ahmadinejad and Lula are expected to sign cooperation agreements in biotechnology, energy and agriculture.
An Iranian deputy foreign minister told the official Brazilian news agency last month that Tehran hopes to expand trade with Brazil to $15 billion from $2 billion in the petrochemical, energy, agricultural and medical fields, The Los Angeles Times reports.