Page last updated at 06:07 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Brazil's Lula in Israel at start of Middle East tour


Brazil's president arrives in Israel

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has arrived in Israel where he begins a tour of the Middle East.

He is visiting Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan ahead of a more controversial visit to Iran in May.

While in the region Lula will throw his country's growing diplomatic weight behind the Middle East peace process.

Brazil has previously said it will not bow to pressure from the US on the issue of further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear work.

President Lula's visit comes amid an ongoing US-Israeli row over the announcement of Israeli plans to build 1,600 homes for Jews in East Jerusalem.

A top aide to President Barack Obama, David Axelrod, said on Sunday that the move was an "insult" to the United States and "destructive" to the peace process.

President Lula has said the peace process requires "someone with neutrality" to speak to all sides.

Heightened sensitivities

His visit comes as Brazil continues to seek an expanded role for itself on the world stage, including a long-running campaign to secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The BBC's Gary Duffy, in Sao Paulo, says the trip stands out from the president's other overseas visits as being both unusual and carrying heightened sensitivities.

In November last year, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian president to visit Brazil.

On that occasion, President Lula criticised attempts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions but he also urged President Ahmadinejad to engage with the West.

Newspapers in Brazil have observed that this is the first time a Brazilian head of state has been to this region since a journey by the last Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, in 1876, our correspondent says.

President Lula is due to meet the Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to travel to the West Bank to meet the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

He will also visit Israel's Holocaust museum and in a gesture to Palestinians will stay the night in Bethlehem, while later in the week he will travel on to Jordan.

However, our correspondent says, he arrives in the region amid renewed tensions in the Middle East peace process, and there seems likely to be limited expectations over what even a fresh perspective can achieve at this delicate stage.

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MENAFN Editorial: Brazil's peace bid - 3 hrs ago
Business Report United Front: Lula keeps options open with Iran visit - 8 hrs ago
BusinessWeek Brazil Economy Drives Lula Bid to Ease Iran Tensions (Update1) - 21 hrs ago Brazilian President Kicks Off Middle East Tour - 23 hrs ago
AFP via Yahoo! Israel's Netanyahu urges calm as US tensions boil over - 38 hrs ago

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