Andrew Hay / Reuters – 2005-05-13 08:24:32
BRASILIA, BRAZIL (May 9, 2005) — The Israeli-Palestinian conflict took to the Latin American stage on Monday on the eve of an unprecedented summit in Brazil between Arab and South American nations. Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, in a meeting of senior officials a day before the main event, emphasized increasing trade and business links between the two parts of the world and fostering diplomatic cooperation.
But Arab nations were also looking for solidarity over the Palestinian cause, terrorism and other political issues. “We should not have two-faced policies in areas where we see crises cropping up. Topping this list is the need of the Palestinian people,” said Algerian presidential adviser Abdel Aziz Bel Khadem, speaking for the Arab nations. “There is a lack of respect for the international rights of people to determine their own fate and there’s a need for us to continue to reject occupation.”
The summit brings together leaders from 12 South American and 22 Arab nations, the first time that such an event has been held. It was proposed by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after his visit to the Middle East in 2003 and forms part of Brazil’s drive to forge a role as a regional diplomatic power and leader of the developing world.
US, Israeli Concerns
The inevitable political aspects have already caused Israel and the United States concern. A draft of the final declaration contained passages supporting the right of people to resist occupation, a sign of support for the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel.
And while condemning terrorism, it also calls for a global conference to define the meaning of terrorist. Washington and the Israelis believe this could offer support to anti-Israeli militant groups such as Hezbollah, whom they deem terrorists. The final declaration was unlikely to be changed, a Brazilian diplomat told Reuters.
The pre-summit politicking was also marked by Brazil turning down an informal request by the United States to send an observer. Amorim said they could watch it on television.
Although Israel is long accustomed to criticism in Arab forums, the Latin American involvement adds a new element. For some analysts, it was another sign of worsening relations between the United States and the countries it has traditionally viewed as its backyard.
Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based think tank the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said he had never seen the United States so isolated from Latin America. “Latin America went through a withering experience of American bullying to gain support for the Iraq coalition, and now El Salvador is the only country in the region with troops left in Iraq. “It’s part of the shakedown of the repercussions of Bush administration foreign policy,” Birns said.
With some prominent Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak not attending, the star guests are two new presidents, Iraq’s Jalal Talabani and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Latin American interest focuses on Venzuela’s Hugo Chavez, a loud critic of Washington, and Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner, who only last week was complaining about Brazil’s assuming the leadership mantle. They will dine with Lula on Monday night.
Brazil is hoping that commerce will win over politics as the tangible gain of the summit. The South American Mercosur bloc — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — will sign a free trade pact with Gulf nations.
Brazilian Trade Minister Luiz Furlan, speaking at a business fair taking place alongside the summit, said he wanted to see Brazil’s trade with Arab countries double to more than $15 billion in the next three years.
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