Clinton Attempts Damage Control

Source – IPS

by Mario Osava *

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 4 (IPS) – The dialogue of the deaf on Iran’s nuclear programme that took place in the capital of Brazil highlights the hurdles faced by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her attempt at forging warmer ties during her tour of six Latin American countries.

Brazil was the fourth stop on Clinton’s tour, which began Monday in Montevideo with the inauguration of Uruguay’s new President José Mujica and then took her on to earthquake-torn Chile and neighbouring Argentina.

On Thursday she attended a conference of foreign and trade ministers focused on economic development in the Americas in Costa Rica, before her meetings with outgoing President Oscar Arias and President-elect Laura Chinchilla. The tour will wrap up with a visit to Guatemala Friday.

With respect to Clinton’s push for Brazilian support for further United Nations sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programme, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said his country wanted to see more negotiations first.

The U.S. and other western powers fear Iran intends to use its uranium enrichment capabilities to generate nuclear-weapon material, a charge Tehran denies.

In a joint press conference with Clinton, Amorim said that statements about Iran “deceiving and misleading and not being very straightforward with Brazil, Turkey and China” reminded him of when, as ambassador to Turkey prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there were similar allegations about that country which turned out to be just “smoke and mirrors” – a reference to the alleged weapons of mass destruction that served as a pretext for the war.

The foreign minister said “sanctions tend to have a negative effect,” and mentioned that he closely followed “the state of affairs in Iraq right before 2003 and the sanctions applied at the time.”

He also said that “whether or not the possibility for negotiations has been exhausted has yet to be determined,” and added that “perhaps another two- or three-month effort spearheaded by the director general of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)” would be advisable.

Clinton responded that “I respect Brazil’s belief that there still is room for negotiation.”

But, she added, “We have yet to see such a good faith offer of negotiation,” and “I think it’s only after we pass sanctions in the (U.N.) Security Council that Iran will negotiate in good faith.”

“We see an Iran that runs to Brazil, an Iran that runs to Turkey, an Iran that runs to China, telling different things to different people to avoid international sanctions,” while Iran is “going in the opposite direction” from the efforts of many countries, like the U.S. and Europe, and of the IAEA, aimed at preventing a nuclear-armed Iran from destabilising the Middle East, said Clinton.

“On the issue of Iran, Argentina is Washington’s good student and Brazil is not,” Rosendo Fraga, director of the Centro de Estudios para la Nueva Mayoría, a Buenos Aires think tank, commented to IPS.

Argentina and Brazil, the two big members of South America’s Mercosur (Southern Common Market) trade bloc (which also includes Paraguay and Uruguay), have taken different stances on the question of Iran.

Meeting with President Cristina Fernández Tuesday in Buenos Aires, Clinton expressed her gratitude for “the leadership that Argentina has shown” in efforts against terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

Fraga said “Argentina is the only country in the world to have a lawsuit against the Iranian state for terrorism, and it has an arrest warrant out for Iran’s current Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi, through Interpol.”

The legal action is over the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed.

The Argentine government downgraded the diplomatic missions between the two countries to commercial attachés, and prosecutors in Argentina filed charges against eight high-level Iranian diplomats and officials, accusing them of involvement in the bombing.

But with respect to the question of Honduras, the visit revealed “different perceptions,” Clinton said, explaining that her government believes that the November elections in which President Porfirio Lobo was elected “mean it’s time to turn the page” regarding the crisis triggered by the June 2009 coup in which President Manuel Zelaya was ousted.

Both Argentina and Brazil see the November elections as illegitimate.

And while Brasilia acknowledges that efforts have been made to foster national reconciliation in that Central American country, he stressed that the coup “is the kind of thing that cannot be easily absorbed,” because it “struck down a legitimately elected president who was very much in the middle of an otherwise successful term in office.”

One important condition for recognising the Lobo administration, Amorim said, would be creating the conditions for Zelaya to return to his country.

The Brazilian minister also mentioned the trauma experienced by many Latin American countries that lived under military dictatorships following coups, although he did not specifically refer to the numerous cases in which Washington backed coups in the region.

In Buenos Aires, Clinton apparently accepted Fernández’s request for “friendly mediation” by the United States to get Argentina and Britain to sit down to talk about the Malvinas/Falkland islands, over which tension has risen again in the past few weeks after a British company began to explore for oil in disputed waters around the islands.

In 1982, a brief war broke out between the two countries when Argentina sent in troops to seize the islands, occupied by the British since 1833. In the war, which Argentina lost, 635 Argentine soldiers and 255 British troops were killed.

Latin America as a whole backs Argentina’s claim to the islands.

In Montevideo, Clinton’s visit reinforced Uruguay’s historically good relations with the United States, which were maintained during the conservative government of George W. Bush (2001-2009), even after socialist former President Tabaré Vázquez of the left-wing Broad Front coalition took office in 2005.

President Mujica, who also belongs to the Broad Front, announced that he plans to continue to move ahead towards trade and scientific cooperation agreements with the United States, while Clinton said Uruguay “is a model for many others not only in our hemisphere, but throughout the world. We join in celebrating the strength of Uruguayan democracy”.

In Chile, Clinton offered satellite phones, field hospitals, medical supplies, dialysis machines, electricity generators, portable bridges and kitchens, helicopters and water purification units to help the country deal with the effects of the severe earthquake that claimed at least 800 lives and left two million homeless on Feb. 27.

Of the countries visited by Clinton, it is with Brazil that Washington has the largest number of discrepancies, like the difference over the Iranian question.

Brazil “thinks with our own head” and “will not simply bow down to an evolving consensus if we do not agree,” said Amorim, referring to pressure by the western powers on Iran.

Under the government of leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in office since 2003, “Brazilian diplomacy has consolidated its autonomy, definitively leaving the Cold War behind, and making Brazil a global actor that does not subordinate itself to any power, and acts in accordance with its own interests and viewpoints, in its own sphere,” Clovis Brigagão, director of the Centre of Studies on the Americas at a private university in Rio de Janeiro, told IPS.

Washington is trying to understand the role that Brazil plans to play with respect to Iran and the Middle East, to see whether it could be a mediator and persuade Tehran to allow nuclear inspections, said Brigagão.

But recent events, besides Iran and Honduras, have given rise to certain tensions in relations between Brazil and the U.S.

On the trade front, Brazil is getting ready to levy punitive tariffs on U.S. imports in retaliation for the U.S. government’s illegal subsidies for cotton farmers. Brazil was authorised by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to impose 830 million dollars in sanctions.

The list of products to be targeted by the retaliatory measures will be announced by the Brazilian government next week, but Clinton said she hoped for a “happier ending” to the cotton dispute, by means of new negotiations in the 30 days until the tariffs would take effect.

The U.S. military presence in some Latin American countries, especially Colombia, the continued U.S. embargo against Cuba, and discrepancies over the focus of anti-drug policies are other issues driving a wedge between the second and third-largest countries of the Americas.

But on her visit to Brasilia, Clinton managed to issue a joint communiqué that underscored the strong relations between the two countries and signed three memoranda of understanding to strengthen cooperation on climate change and clean energy, the advancement of women, and technical cooperation in third countries, especially Haiti and African nations.

In Costa Rica, Clinton was taking part in a meeting of the “Pathways to Prosperity” initiative launched by former president Bush and expanded by the administration of Barack Obama, which includes 14 countries. The ministers gathered in the conference discussed efforts against drug trafficking, investment and clean technology.

Costa Rica will play a key role in Central America, now that its relations with the United States are taking on a new dimension under the Obama administration, according to political scientist Carlos Carranza.

On issues like the drug trade, human development and migration, Costa Rica is one of the key countries in terms of Washington’s ties with Latin America, along with Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, the analyst told IPS.

In Guatemala, analysts and politicians expect no help from Clinton. “I think that her list of criticisms will include a scolding for local officials, asking them why they haven’t done anything, and calling for tougher action against drug trafficking,” former foreign minister Gabriel Orellana remarked to IPS.

“The United States finances many actions, for which we are required to show results,” he said.

Clinton’s Latin America tour “is circumscribed to having a presence here and sending out a signal of good will, but it will produce very few tangible results in terms of our agenda,” said political scientist Carmen Ortiz, who argued that Central America should put its own priorities, like migration and the economic crisis, on the table.

* With additional reporting by Marcela Valente (Buenos Aires), Daniel Zueras (San José) and Danilo Valladares (Guatemala). (END/2010)