BRASILIA – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday renewed his offer to mediate the Middle East conflict and joined visiting Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad in criticizing Israel for its blockade of Gaza.
The criticism of Israel, along with even harsher remarks by the Syrian leader, set the tone for the only public statements that the two men made after their private meeting on Wednesday in Brasilia.
Lula said that Syria “is an indispensable partner in the search for peace” and that “all eyes are looking toward Damascus to find a word of authority and moderation,” despite the fact that the Middle Eastern country has been accused by the United States and Israel of supporting terrorist groups.
“The conflict transcends regional dimensions” and its resolution “is everyone’s responsibility,” the Brazilian leader said.
He rejected “the thesis that the Middle East is destined for conflict and that its sons are condemned to live in the irrationality of war.”
“The incident with the humanitarian flotilla, attacked (by Israel) in international waters, shows that now is the time to end the blockade of Gaza,” Lula added.
In keeping with the importance he accorded to Syria in the peace process, Lula expressed to Assad his readiness to participate in negotiations with “all actors” in the conflict, as he had in his latest meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
In his defense of the establishment of a “sovereign and economically viable” Palestinian state, Lula backed the aspiration of Damascus to recover the Golan Heights, Syrian territory that Israel occupied in 1967 during the Six Day War and annexed in 1982.
Assad also praised the accord achieved by Brazil and Turkey with Iran last month, according to which Tehran promised to exchange low enriched uranium for nuclear fuel.
Despite the fact that that accord did not convince the United States and was not enough to prevent new sanctions from being approved by the U.N. Security Council against Iran, Assad said that it nevertheless serves as a basis for a negotiated solution to the conflict over the Iranian nuclear program.
The presidents also analyzed bilateral matters, with an emphasis on economic ties, an area on which Assad expressed Syria’s interest in discussing a free trade accord with Mercosur, a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.
After lunching with Lula, Assad met with Brazilian lawmakers and traveled to Sao Paulo, where on Thursday he will engage in various activities with the local Syrian community.
Brasilia is the third stop on Assad’s first Latin American tour, a trip that has already taken him to Caracas and Havana and which will conclude on Friday in Buenos Aires. EFE