Commentary: Brazil needs to work on diplomacy in Latin America

Brazil's self-proclaimed diplomatic victory in Iran earlier this week led pundits to speculate that the South American country has become a major new player in world affairs. But they were most likely wrong, or at the very least spoke to soon.

Instead, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's announcement Monday that Brazil and Turkey had brokered a deal with Iran to solve the international crisis over Iran's nuclear program may go down in history as a textbook case of diplomatic megalomania.

It may also raise growing questions about why Lula is single-handedly trying to solve the world's biggest problems -- such as Iran's nuclear program or, weeks earlier, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- while almost not lifting a finger to try to mediate disputes that are much closer to home in Latin America.

After signing the three-country deal during his visit to Iran, an ecstatic Lula -- who was recently picked by Time magazine as the world's most influential leader -- raised hands with Iranian strongman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and proclaimed that the agreement was a "victory of diplomacy."

Under the deal, aimed at dispelling Western fears that Iran is enriching uranium to build nuclear weapons in violation of U.N. non-proliferation rules, Iran agreed to ship some 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Turkey. In exchange, it will receive about a year later 265 pounds of enriched uranium from Russia and France.

The agreement was similar to one offered by the United States, Russia, China and Europe in October, which Iran first tentatively accepted and later dismissed. Supporters of the Brazil-Turkish mediation effort point out that Iran made significant concessions in the new agreement: Until now, Iran had balked at the idea of storing its uranium abroad, and had demanded that any swap for foreign-made enriched uranium be simultaneous.

But only hours after Lula's victory claim, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Obama administration had struck a deal with Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain to impose sanctions on Iran.

In other words, world powers saw Iran's deal with Brazil and Turkey as yet another effort by the Iranian regime to buy time while it continues secretly building nuclear weapons. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council introduced a resolution Tuesday aimed at strengthening existing sanctions against Iran.

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