RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Iran's foreign ministry summoned Brazil's chargé d'affaires in Tehran following an official Brazilian statement that some experts interpreted as backing the U.S. killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The conversation with Brazil's representative in Iran took place on Jan. 5 “with cordiality, within usual diplomatic practice,” according to a statement Tuesday from Brazil's foreign ministry.
The ministry had issued a Jan. 3 statement following the death earlier that day of Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad's airport.
“Upon being made aware of the actions carried out by the United States in recent days in Iraq, the Brazilian government expresses its support against the scourge of terrorism,” the statement said. It added that "Brazil cannot remain indifferent" to the threat of terrorism.
While the note didn't explicitly back the killing of Soleimani, it implied support and and was stronger than statements from U.S. allies in NATO such as Britain, according to Mauricio Santoro, an international relations professor at Rio’s state university, UERJ.
Likewise, the statement was coherent with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's proposal to align with U.S. President Donald Trump, according to Hussein Kalout, formerly Brazil’s special secretary for strategic affairs.
Bolsonaro's efforts to draw close to the U.S. has been the cornerstone of his foreign policy since he took office at the start of 2019. Another component has been a tighter relationship with Israel, and he initially spoke of transferring the nation's embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Faced with a threat of Arab nations boycotting Brazil's agricultural exports, Bolsonaro ultimately decided to open a commercial office in Jerusalem rather than move the embassy.
The statement from Brazil's foreign ministry prompted critics to voice concerns about straying from the tradition of remaining neutral regarding Middle East conflicts.
Local newspaper O Globo's editorial page wrote on Tuesday that the killing of Soleimani may create market shocks, particularly in the global oil supply chain.
“Brazil, first and foremost, needs to preserve its interests, which cannot be of this or that government," the newspaper wrote. It said Bolsonaro's government "supports an action that makes the Middle East more dangerous.”
Asked by journalists about Brazil's Tehran-based chargé d'affaires being summoned, Bolsonaro said he planned to speak with his foreign relations minister, Ernesto Araújo, when he returns from traveling abroad. He also said that trade with Iran will continue.
Iran bought $1 billion of Brazilian corn in 2019, the second most of any nation. The Middle Eastern nation also imports other agricultural products as well as urea, which is used to make fertilizer, and Brazil has a more than $2 billion trade surplus.
Brazil's commercial interests with Iran are unlikely to be affected for the time being, according to Kalout, now a visiting researcher of comparative politics at Harvard University.
“The Iranians in my perception will grade Brazil’s actions,” Kalout said in a phone interview. "A note doesn’t mean anything. A wider coordination in a multilateral forum, that has broader implications. They could freeze some imports from Brazil.”
Agribusiness in Brazil will continue to exert pressure on Bolsonaro to be careful with his words for fear he could jeopardize an export market, according to UERJ's Santoro.
Speaking to reporters, Bolsonaro offered a brief comment in line with the foreign ministry's earlier statement: “We repudiate terrorism anywhere in the world, period.”