, BRASILIA, Sep 10 – Brazil is poised to become one of the 21st century’s great powers, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has told AFP, as he fended off international criticism of its role as a "conciliator" in dealings with Iran and Venezuela.
The future of what is already Latin America’s biggest economy, with its vast new oil discoveries, rapidly developing industrial base and bulk of the Amazon forest, is secure, he said in an exclusive interview in his official residence.
"I don’t know if I’ll be alive to see it, but I think Brazil will become a big power in the 21st century. We have everything a people needs to become a big power," he said.
And with those ambitions comes a flexing of muscles in the international arena said Lula, 63, one of the principal opponents to the West’s increasing pressure on Iran over that country’s nuclear program.
Soon, probably this month, he is to host Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the latter’s first overseas trip since being declared the winner of disputed June 12 elections.
Lula slammed a renewed push by the United States and European countries for sanctions against Iran over fears its nuclear program was hiding the development of atomic weapon.
"We need to convince them politically. They can’t be backed into a wall," he said. "This policy of ‘all or nothing’ doesn’t exist."
Iran had a right to peaceful nuclear energy, he insisted, adding that he believed the US-led criticism of its arch-foe in the Middle East was reminiscent of Washington’s fallacious justification for the war in Iraq.
"Even today, those leaders in favor of the war in Iraq are unable to explain why they invaded if there were no chemical weapons. Well, I am seeing the same sort of things starting to happen over Iran," he said.
Brazil’s role, he said, is that of "pacifier, of conciliator" — particularly in Latin America.
"I have more meetings with the presidents of Latin America than I do with my own children," he said, employing one of his ready smiles.
Lula also stomped on any attempt to isolate another US nemesis, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
But while he continued to stress that Chavez was the victor of multiple elections, in his interview with AFP Lula said he would never have cracked down on independent media as the Venezuelan leader recently did.
"I wouldn’t do what Chavez did with the media," Lula said.
The gruff former union leader, who himself received rough treatment in Brazil’s press before becoming president, added however: "I also think the media shouldn’t have done what they did with Chavez for so long."
Lula also spoke about bridges built with the West, including Brazil’s alliance with France, as evidenced by Lula’s invitation to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend Independence Day celebrations in Brasilia next Monday.
"We are determined to build this strategic partnership, to boost France-Brazil ties."
Brazil already has closed a deal to buy five submarines from France and there is speculation Lula’s government will purchase 36 ultra-modern French fighter jets ahead of rival offers from the United States and Sweden.
Lula declined to say which way that decision would go, but said France’s offer to share all the technology that goes into its Rafale fighters made its bid the most attractive.
"France has shown itself to be the most flexible country in terms of transfer of technology," he said.
Part of the reason Brazil is so strongly beefing up its military is to defend vast new offshore oil fields discovered over the past two years.
Those subsalt fields – which Lula expects will turn Brazil into one of the top 10 oil-exporting nations in the world – were this week put under the control of the state-run oil group Petrobras, according to a draft legal reform yet to be approved by Brazil’s congress.
Lula said the plan would secure Brazil’s future, and he believed foreign companies would still bring the necessary investment even on the more restrictive terms.
"It’s a big opportunity, and we’re not going to throw money away," he said.
"It was the right decision to adopt this model."
Brazil also is going to live up to its environmental responsibilities, the president said.
"We have a moral obligation to reduce Amazon deforestation," he said.
He added that Brazil’s offer to meet specific reduction targets in greenhouse gas emissions at a UN meeting on climate change in Denmark in December will be balanced against its aim to become an industrial powerhouse.
"Nobody thinks that Brazil should have the same responsibility as Britain, as France or other countries that have been industrialized and emitting greenhouse gases for a century," he said.
He added: "If these talks are carried out seriously, we are convinced a serious deal is possible."