Monday, July 05, 2010

Lula, Celso Amorim and Me

Actually there's nothing about Lula and me, but I did have a run-in with his Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim. While I was the science officer at the US embassy in Brasilia, the US proposed a high level science exchange. At that time, Celso Amorim was the foreign policy advisor assigned to the Science Ministry. The Science Minister and I actually had a good working relationship. Things were going along relatively smoothly until Celso Amorim got involved. He was a real Brazilian nationalist, and was very suspicious that the US had some nefarious intention for promoting the cooperation. Brazil has been suspicious of US scientific cooperation for many years, since an American discovered the huge mountain of iron ore in Brazil that became Vale do Rio Doce, now one of the world's biggest iron producers.

When Celso Amorim became involved, the negotiations for the joint scientific meeting went from being cordial to adversarial. I finally felt that I had hit a dead end and asked the ambassador's office for some help. Presumably somebody from high up in Itamaraty, the Foreign Ministry, told Celso to be more cooperative, and we eventually reached agreement on the meeting. Celso and Lula probably share a Brazilian nationalism which was probably a factor in Brazil's recent involvement in Iran's offer to ship some enriched uranium to Turkey in return for more highly enriched uranium for its research reactor.

Brazil no doubt sympathizes with Iran because it faced a similar problem created by the United States. Back in the 1970s, Brazil bought a nuclear reactor from Westinghouse in the US. Just before the reactor was finished, then Senator John Glenn passed a law that prevented the US from supplying fuel for the reactor unless Brazil agreed to "full scope safeguards" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which had not been part of the original agreement. Brazil was then a party to the Tlatelolco Treaty on peaceful uses of nuclear energy in Latin America, but not the NPT, which it considered discriminatory because of the different ways it treated nuclear and non-nuclear countries. When the US changed the terms of the sale, Brazil balked. It then had a billion dollar reactor, and no fuel for it. It embarked on a program to develop a fuel cycle to produce its own reactor fuel, which could have enabled it to produce weapons grade uranium, placing it in much the same situation Iran is today. The Brazilian situation was defused (I would like to think) partly due to my efforts while science officer there. But no doubt the Brazilians, including Celso Amorim who was in Itamarty at the time, have a keen appreciation for Iran's situation.

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