Exclusive: U.S. eyes joining Amazon Fund during Biden-Lula visit

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RIO DE JANEIRO/WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The United States is considering its first contribution to a multilateral fund aimed at fighting Amazon deforestation, with a possible announcement during President Joe Biden's meeting with Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the White House on Friday, two U.S. official with direct knowledge of the matter said.

A U.S. contribution to the Brazilian-administered Amazon Fund would underline warmer ties between the two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere, after frostier relations between Biden and former far right President Jair Bolsonaro.

The Amazon Fund was set up in 2009 with an initial donation from Norway to help fight deforestation and spur sustainable development in Brazil. Bolsonaro froze the fund when he took office in 2019, but Lula has rebooted it with support from Norway and Germany. Britain is also looking at joining the fund, which has received $1.3 billion so far.

The White House said it had no announcement to make "at this time."

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said Biden and Lula would discuss what actions could be taken to combat the climate crisis.

It was not clear how much the United States was looking to invest in the fund, the officials said. One of the sources added that Washington hoped by joining the fund it could "solidify" the fight to protect the rainforest and "turn back the clock on all this deforestation and wildfires."

Last week, Germany announced a new 35 million euro ($38 million) donation to the Amazon Fund, as part of a 200 million euro ($217 million) environmental pledge to Brazil.

The U.S. interest in the Amazon Fund reflects a greater desire to help Brazil protect the world's largest rainforest, a crucial bulwark against climate change where destruction surged during Bolsonaro's four years in office.

In November, Reuters reported that Washington is looking to crack down on environmental criminals behind deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, using penalties such as Magnitsky sanctions to tackle climate change more aggressively.

The official said the Biden-Lula talks would include a commitment to "strengthening cooperation against environmental crime."

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes, Christian Plumb and Diane Craft

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