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Joe Biden and Lula, ready to team up

Thirty-five minutes: this is the time, lightning in diplomacy, that it took US President Joe Biden on Sunday evening to congratulate Lula Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after the proclamation of his presidential victory in Brazil.

Joe Biden was not alone. Several other foreign leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron – even more quickly – or Canadian Justin Trudeau, quickly congratulated Lula for giving him instant legitimacy and stifling any hint of protest from far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

It must be said that the latter had waited 38 days before acknowledging Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 over Donald Trump, of whom he is a great admirer.

With the election of Lula, the two most populous countries in the Western Hemisphere are thus equipped with veteran politicians for leaders, septuagenarians who have returned to the arena to, according to them, save democracy in peril. And both narrowly beat candidates from the populist right.

MM. Biden and Lula spoke by phone the very next day and were able to forge a close partnership on a number of issues they both care about, such as climate change, experts say.

In his victory speech on Sunday night, Lula said he wanted to break with Jair Bolsonaro and restore a “leadership role” to Brazil in the fight against the climate crisis.

“Brazil and the planet need a living Amazon,” he said.

“I think there is a natural fit (between the two leaders) on climate and democracy,” said Valentina Sader of the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council.

“If we go by the past, Lula will end up working with everyone, but at the same time being pragmatic,” she adds.

For the former US ambassador to Brasilia, Liliana Ayalde, “there is room to do a lot of things”, and points, for example, to the fight against deforestation or the role that Brazil could play in Haiti, a country ravaged by gangs.

Other Western countries also intend to strengthen their cooperation with Brazil, such as Norway, which has said it is ready to resume its massive financial aid to protect the Amazon from deforestation, or the European Commission on a draft free trade agreement with Mercosur – the countries.

– Lula, “pragmatic” –

However, the president’s discretion could soon be reduced if Republicans, some of whom are strong supporters of Mr. Bolsonaro, were to win next week’s midterm elections in the United States.

And the similarities between Joe Biden, who has been in power circles for decades, and Lula, a former trade unionist who has become an icon of the Latin American left, have their limits.

In his first term, Lula had maintained good relations both with the United States and countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, but he had also irritated Washington, for example by taking a diplomatic initiative alone regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

In an interview with Time magazine earlier this year, he also blamed the West for part of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and said Joe Biden should have gone to Moscow to negotiate. “It’s the kind of thing you expect from a leader,” he said.

But at the same time he clearly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin – who also congratulated him on his election – and experts such as Ms Ayalde noted the absence of soft words for Cuba and Venezuela in his speech on Sunday night.

“I think we’re going to see a much more moderate Lula,” she said again, noting that he said he wanted to distance himself from “authoritarianism.”

For Celso Lafer, former Brazilian foreign minister, Lula returns to the front of the stage in a very different international context.

Jair Bolsonaro, he noted, has “isolated” Brazil on the international stage, in “break” with the previous diplomacy of the large Latin American country.

“Lula obviously has the ability to reverse this negative legacy,” Mr. Lafer told the Atlantic Council.

Especially since Lula likes to pose as a “negotiator,” added Bruna Santos, Brazil specialist at the Wilson Center think tank.

“He always strives to show himself as someone who can coordinate and be more diplomatic in a pragmatic way,” she said.

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