WASHINGTON – On the eve of Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva’s visit to the White House to discuss trade, energy and global warming issues, U.S. diplomats reacted coolly Friday to the visitor’s other agenda item: his offer to mediate with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Lula has received the approval of Chavez, a longtime critic of U.S. policy, to act as a “bridge” between the two countries whose relations have been rocky in recent years. Ugly invective flew in both directions during George W. Bush’s administration, which Chavez often accused of “Yankee imperialism,” and each country expelled the other’s ambassador last year.
“We appreciate Brazil’s interest in promoting constructive dialogue throughout the region,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said in a media briefing in Washington, D.C. “Ultimately, our willingness to engage constructively with countries … depends on a reciprocal willingness on their part to engage with us.”
The Brazilian president’s visit today will be the first by a Latin American leader since President Barack Obama took office. It’s an indication of Brazil’s importance to the United States as an economic partner, not just as political counterweight in a region that has tilted left in recent years.