March 14, 2009 / 10:50 PM / 10 years ago

Getting lost in Amazon? Obama banters with Lula

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foreign leaders hoping to have good chemistry with U.S. President Barack Obama may want to take a lesson from Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington March 14, 2009. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The Brazilian president, a charismatic former union leader, hit it off with the former Chicago community organizer at a White House meeting on Saturday with banter about verbosity and, of all things, getting lost in the Amazon.

In his opening remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, Lula said he expressed sympathy to Obama for the many crises the United States faced.

Eliciting laughter from journalists, he said he told Obama what he told Brazilians at rallies back home:

“I’m praying more for him than I pray for myself. Because with just 40 days in office — to suffer and to face such a terrible crisis the U.S. is facing today, I don’t want to be in his position.”

Obama, who has been in office 54 days, offered a quick response, “You sound like you’ve been talking to my wife.”

It didn’t stop there. After a particularly lengthy response to a question about divisions in the G20 grouping of major developed and emerging economies, Obama apologized for getting wordy — and found he had a soulmate of sorts.

“Sorry to take so long on the answer,” Obama said.

“That’s not a problem, Mr. President,” Lula replied. “We all talk too much.”

Lula smoothed over tensions between the two countries on ethanol tariffs by offering Obama a special ride when he comes for a visit.

“When President Obama comes to visit Brazil, I’m going to ask him to get inside a car that is run by a flex-fuel engine and he will feel very comfortable,” Lula said.

Obama, who noted he once had that type of vehicle, said he was looking forward to a trip.

“Because I’m somebody who grew up in Hawaii, I felt it was very important that I at least go to Rio, where I understand the beaches are pretty nice,” Obama said.

A Brazilian journalist suggested to the Democratic president that he start a visit in the Amazon forest.

“You know, I would love a trip to the Amazon,” Obama said.

“I suspect that the Republican Party would love to see me travel through the Amazon — and maybe get lost.”

Editing by Peter Cooney

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