Brazil’s left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reportedly embarrassed the Biden administration on Monday by allowing two Iranian warships to dock in Rio de Janeiro, only a few weeks after President Joe Biden rolled out the red carpet for Lula in Washington.
The Biden administration has been obsequious to hardline socialist Lula after his narrow victory over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the October election. Biden fawned over Lula’s victory and ostentatiously invited him to visit Washington on January 9, the day after Bolsonaro loyalists rioted in Brasilia.
Biden and Lula ended up meeting in the White House on February 10. Both sides hyped the trip as an opportunity to “reset” U.S.-Brazil relations.
“The most important aspect of the visit is political: the symbolism of this meeting happening so soon after President Lula took office. It’s an opportunity for the two leaders to meet face-to-face and give the relationship a new direction and new momentum,” a Brazilian Foreign Ministry official gushed in advance of the meeting.
Lula ignored heavy lobbying from the Biden administration in January and granted Iran’s request for its warships IRIS Makran and IRIS Dena to dock in the port of Rio de Janeiro. As plans for Lula’s red-carpet visit to Washington firmed up, Biden administration officials let the Brazilians know that Iranian warships sailing into Rio right before the trip would be “something unpleasant we wanted to avoid.”
“There were a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations about this at many different levels,” a U.S. official told Reuters in early February.
SCOOP: Under US pressure, Lula blocked two Iranian warships from docking in Rio during his meeting with Biden tomorrow. Although Lula has long opposed US sanctions on Tehran, the decision is a goodwill gesture toward Biden to reset US relations. https://t.co/Rkjs9cQsM7
— Gabriel Stargardter (@gabstargardter) February 9, 2023
The best Biden’s team could apparently do was convince Lula to reschedule the Iranian warship visit until a few weeks after Biden feted the Brazilian leader in DC. Lula’s government denied pressure from Washington had anything to do with delaying the Iranian port call by a month.
The U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Elizabeth Bagley, urged Brazil to turn the Iranian ships away completely on February 15.
“In the past, those ships facilitated illegal trade and terrorist activities, and have also been sanctioned by the United States. Brazil is a sovereign nation, but we firmly believe those ships should not dock anywhere,” Bagley said.
The Makran and Dena pulled into Rio on Sunday morning with the blessing of Vice Admiral Carlos Eduardo Horta Arentz, deputy chief of the Brazilian Naval Staff. As Reuters pointed out, Arentz could only give his approval with authorization from the Lula administration, specifically the Foreign Ministry.
US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Washington was keeping a close eye on Teheran’s naval activities in the Western Hemisphere.https://t.co/WFuIMkfKDQ #truth #Iran #US
— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) February 12, 2023
“Despite Washington’s calls, the South American country allowed the ships to dock in Rio after Lula ended his trip,” Iran’s Tasnim News reported smugly.
Dissident news site IranWire noted the Dena, an indigenously-produced warship ceremonially launched in June 2021, “is said to be armed with anti-ship cruise missiles, naval cannons and torpedoes.”
The Makran, an oil tanker converted to a military logistics vessel with helicopter pads, is “the largest ship in the Iranian navy.”
Critics of the Biden administration said the two warships, which together comprise one of the Iranian navy’s three “flotillas,” are part of Tehran’s effort to expand its malign influence in Latin America.
“Iran has been aggressively strengthening its ties to the Western Hemisphere through like-minded socialist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. They are also looking for opportunities elsewhere, and it’s no coincidence that Iranian ships are docking in Brazil just a month after a socialist retook power in the country,” Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) told Fox News in early February, after Iran defiantly announced its ships were heading for their rescheduled docking in Rio.
“Instead of supporting the Iran-friendly socialist and left-wing regimes in Latin America, the Biden administration should be strengthening political forces committed to keeping our hemisphere free of antisemitic terror,” Salazar said.