Luiz Lula da Silva, commonly known simply as “Lula,” returned to the presidency of Brazil in January 2023, just three years after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction on charges of corruption and money laundering. He served less than two years of that sentence. Lula’s return to power while delighting his supporters, also pleased some of Iran’s clerical leaders. A third Lula term re-opens diplomatic opportunities that had been closed down during the Bolsonaro Administration.
Like his counterpart in Venezuela, the 77-year-old Lula has cultivated warm relations with Iran. In his previous terms as president, Lula exchanged high-level delegations and state-visits with Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Lula has offered Tehran political support on the international stage, especially in light of Western efforts to isolate the regime over its nuclear program. “If Iran wants to enrich uranium…in a peaceful way, like Brazil does, that is Iran’s right,” Lula said in 2007. Months after his fraudulent reelection in 2009, Ahmadinejad was welcomed in Brazil, on a tour through Latin America to boost the Islamic Republic of Iran’s image at a time when it was maiming and killing peaceful protesters in the streets.
There were even speculations in 2010 that Brazil was gearing up to provide Iran with high-enriched uranium. Brazil’s foreign minister issued a forceful denial. To make matters worse, that year Lula negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement between Turkey and Iran in which Turkey would supply enriched uranium to Iran for a medical research reactor in exchange for half of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile.
Lula’s current administration has been welcomed by the U.S. He visited the White House even as he was negotiating the dates for the arrival of two Iranian warships, the IRIS Makran and IRIS Dena, to a Brazilian port. These warships were later designated by the U.S. government under Executive Order 13599, with the U.S. Department of the Treasury noting the Makran maintains drone launch capabilities. The White House did not use the state-visit as a carrot to prod Lula to turn the battleships away. Instead, it settled on Brazil delaying the visitation by a couple of weeks, to avoid the political fallout that would have occurred if the battleships descended on the Brazilian port at the same time Lula was at the White House. Biden’s invitation to Lula had a clear political motivation, namely spotlighting the insurrection that had occurred in Brazil after Lula’s election and portraying Brazil’s new government as a model of democracy within the oft-mentioned global competition between democracies and autocracies.
There is an obvious double-standard at play. As Lula gets the prestige of a White House visit for his supposed democratic credentials (notwithstanding his conviction for corruption), he allows the Islamic Republic’s military to roll into the Western Hemisphere, even as it ships drones to Putin for targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine in an effort to subvert a functioning democracy’s sovereignty, and as it carries out a brutal crackdown against a democratic movement in its own country.