Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Bush meets with Brazilian president

A CRITICAL PLAYER Although he was unable to reach any free-trade agreements at the OAS summit in Argentina, the US president hopes to get Brazil's cooperation

AP , BRASILIA, BRAZIL

US President George W. Bush, fresh from the Summit of the Americas, was sitting down yesterday with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for a meeting that may have an even greater impact on his relationship with Latin America.

Brazil -- the largest nation in Latin America and fifth largest in the world -- has immense influence on its neighbors, and its large population represents a lucrative market for US products that Bush would like to expand.

"Brazil is an absolutely critical player in the hemisphere," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "There is a limit to how much progress the US can make on any issue, free trade included, without Brazil's support and cooperation."

Bush says that more trade between the US, Brazil and other nations in the Western Hemisphere would help create jobs, spread democratic values and lift people out of poverty.

Brazil was initially the US' partner in negotiating the Free Trade Area of the Americas, extending from Alaska to Argentina. But the 34 nations at the Summit of the Americas left their meeting on Saturday divided on how to proceed -- with the US on the majority side looking to move forward, and Brazil in a group of five holdouts that prefer to wait for worldwide trade negotiations.

The other countries that balked were Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

"Brazil is a very important player" in world trade talks, Bush said last week as he looked forward to his meeting with Silva. "When Brazil speaks, people listen carefully."

The two presidents could not have more different backgrounds. While Bush was raised in wealth, educated at top schools and is the son of a former president, Silva is a former shoeshine boy, grade-school dropout, lathe operator and radical union leader.

Both leaders are dealing with scandals that have involved top aides and driven down their popularity.

White House adviser Lewis "Scooter" Libby was recently indicted on charges of perjury and obstructing justice and top aide Karl Rove is under investigation for his role in revealing the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Top Silva aides have resigned in a kickback scandal.

Despite Silva's leftist views and the stalled trade negotiations, the two leaders have gotten along well in previous meetings. Silva planned to celebrate Bush's first visit to his country with a barbecue at the presidential residence.

Not all Brazilians plan to be as hospitable to the US president. Landless peasants and other protesters backed by the Roman Catholic Church planned demonstrations against Bush during his visit, scheduled to last just under 24 hours.

Other issues on the agenda for Bush and Silva's meeting include the fight against drug trafficking, Brazil's leading role in the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti and Brazil's relationship with its neighbors in South America.

Silva has close ties with other leftist leaders on the continent, and Bush said he has called upon his friend in Brazil to help him resolve issues in the region.

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