Brazil's Lula to meet Biden on Friday at White House

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends a breakfast with journalists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends a breakfast with journalists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia January 12, 2023. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

BRASILIA/WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Brazil's leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva traveled to Washington on Thursday, invited to the White House by President Joe Biden in a visit that will focus on support for Brazilian democracy and shared environmental commitments.

The U.S. government is considering joining a multilateral fund aimed at fighting Amazon deforestation in Brazil, an a contribution could be announced during their meeting, two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Relations between the Western Hemisphere's two largest democracies had been lukewarm under Lula's far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, an ally of Republican former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Lula will visit Biden on Friday afternoon, after meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic lawmakers in the morning.

Brazil's Foreign Ministry said support for democracy, human rights and the environment will be at the center of Lula's agenda in Washington.

Brazil is also eager for more countries to contribute to the Amazon Fund started by Germany and Norway to back protection of the rainforest and sustainable development projects.

The Biden administration is looking into joining the $1.3 billion fund, the two U.S. officials confirmed to Reuters.

A U.S. contribution to the Brazilian-administered fund would underline the resetting of ties between the two countries after the recent period of frosty relations.

Lula traveled to Washington with Environment Minister Marina Silva, who is expected to meet with Biden's climate envoy John Kerry. The ministers of foreign relations, finance and racial equality are also on the delegation.

Brazil reinforced its commitment to protecting the Amazon rainforest this week by launching by an enforcement operation against illegal gold miners that have devastated the Yanomami indigenous reservation in northern Brazil.

Lula's predecessor relaxed environmental protections, encouraging mining and logging in the Amazon and allowing deforestation in the region to hit a 15-year high.

"Brazil is once again an active protagonist in climate change talks and is seeking the engagement and financial commitment of other countries," said Michel Arslanian, secretary for the Americas at Brazil's Foreign Ministry.

Latin America's largest nation is also interested in preferential access to the U.S. defense market and Pentagon equipment sales, Arslanian told reporters.

Asked about U.S. government pressure for Brasilia to support Ukraine in its war with Russia, the diplomat said Brazil remains neutral and calls for dialogue to reach peace.

Lula's meeting with Biden represents a show of support for Brazil's democratic institutions, which came under stress with Bolsonaro's refusal to concede defeat in the October election and the storming of government buildings by his supporters on Jan. 8, one week after the presidential inauguration.

Bolsonaro flew to Florida 48 hours before Lula was sworn in and has requested a tourist visa to stay in the United States.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the situation said the U.S. government had been led to believe by interlocutors that Bolsonaro would return to Brazil after carnival in the country, which ends on Feb 22. The official did not expect Lula to bring up his predecessor in the meeting with Biden.

Brazilian officials declined to comment on Bolsonaro's travel and said it was a matter for U.S. immigration authorities.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Brad Haynes, Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Anthony has covered Brazilian politics since 2012, the narrow 2022 election of leftist President Lula following four years of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, and the turbulence faced by Brazilian democracy. He has reported from Chile under General Pinochet and from Havana under Fidel Castro. He has also covered U.S.-Latin American affairs from Washington 1995-2002. Anthony holds an M.A. in Politics from Essex University. Contact: 55 61 98204-1110