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Could Lula Help End the War in Ukraine? Brazil’s President Vows to Pursue Diplomacy, Won’t Arm Kyiv

StoryFebruary 28, 2023
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We speak with Celso Amorim, the foreign adviser to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, about how Brazil could play a key role in peace talks to end the war in Ukraine. Lula recently met with President Biden, who has unsuccessfully pushed Brazil to send weapons to Ukraine. Lula says he told Biden, “I don’t want to join the war, I want to end the war.” “If you only talk how to defeat Russia, how to enfeeble or weaken Russia, that will not come to a positive conclusion,” says Amorim, who also previously served as Brazil’s foreign minister, as well as its defense minister. “You have to talk to everyone, including your adversaries.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to look at how Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, could play a key effort in peace talks to end the war in Ukraine. China has also sought to mediate negotiations in recent weeks and months, and Lula is set to meet with the Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of March. When Lula met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the end of January, he said Brazil will work with other nations to help achieve peace in Ukraine, as his country has not taken sides.

PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] My suggestion is that we form a group of countries that will sit at the table with Ukraine and Russia to try to find peace, to try to stop the war. Brazil will make an effort. I already spoke with Macron. I spoke with Scholz. I will speak with other presidents, the United States, with President Biden. Then I will find other presidents to talk to about the idea of creating a group of people, institutional, multilateral, G20, G10, G15, to sit down and find peace, because the world needs peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Just two weeks ago, Lula was in the United States to meet with President Biden, who has pushed Brazil to send weapons to Ukraine. Lula says he told Biden, quote, “I don’t want to join the war, I want to end the war.” Lula spoke on CNN.

PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] What I believe is that in the case of Ukraine and Russia, it is necessary to have someone talking about peace. It’s necessary that we should build up interlocutors to talk with the different parties that are in confrontation. That’s my thesis. We need to find interlocutors that could sit with President Putin and show to him the mistake that he made to invade the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian territory. And we have to show to Ukraine that we have to talk more, so that we can avoid this war. We have to stop the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Lula was speaking to Christiane Amanpour. He told Biden he would not sell weapons or ammunition to Ukraine. After Lula’s remarks, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby was asked to respond in a follow-up interview on CNN.

JOHN KIRBY: We don’t see any — any impetus right now to get to the negotiating table. So that’s why we are focused on making sure Ukraine has everything they need to be successful on the battlefield, so that if and when President Zelensky says, “I’m ready to sit down,” he can do so with some wind at his back. … The whole issue at stake in Ukraine, when you get right down to it, is about sovereignty. It’s about independence. And how ironic, how hypocritical would it be for the United States, in that sort of a frame, to be browbeating or trying to tussle other countries to give more, do more, say more?

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Russia’s deputy foreign minister told the Russian news service TASS last week that Moscow took note of Lula’s comments, quote, “on the subject of possible mediation in order to find political ways to prevent escalation in Ukraine, correcting miscalculations in the field of international security on the basis of multilateralism and considering the interests of all players,” he said.

For more, we go to the capital of Brazil, Brasília, to speak with Celso Amorim, the foreign affairs adviser for Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He previously served as Brazil’s foreign minister under Lula. Amorim also served as defense minister under former President Dilma Rousseff.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you start off by talking about the significance of what Lula told Biden about not selling weapons to Ukraine, and the possibility of Lula serving as some kind of mediator, Celso Amorim?

CELSO AMORIM: Well, I think — well, good morning, or good after — good morning, I believe, there in the United States on the East Coast.

I think that the real point is that we don’t want to be part of the war. And, of course, if you provide ammunition or — actually, we were asked to do that by Germany rather than the United States. But if we provide ammunition, we’ll be participating in a war, something that we don’t want. It’s contrary to our general view in relation to the favoring peace and peaceful means of resolving conflicts. Well, that does not mean that we don’t condemn the actions of Russia invading Ukraine, violating its territorial integrity and violating norms of the United Nations Charter. But we think that we must talk about peace. That’s absolutely necessary, because if you only talk how to defeat Russia, how to enfeeble or weaken Russia, that will not come to a positive conclusion. I think the war will continue. You will have certainly a resentful Russia, whoever is the leader. And I think that that doesn’t bode well for peace in Europe or in the world.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — it’s not only Brazil, but most of the countries in Latin America have maintained a neutrality and refused to provide weapons to Ukraine. There’s been some criticism of some of the countries but not all. Why do you think that Latin America has charted such a different course on this war?

CELSO AMORIM: Well, to start with, we didn’t actually even try to coordinate. That was a spontaneous attitude in relation to war. We are a region of peace. We want, by the way, not only Latin America but South America and the South Atlantic to be a region of peace. So, this is not a war in which we are involved — which does not mean that we don’t condemn the actions by Russia. I want to stress that once again.

But I think more important than condemning or not condemning, or trying to weaken Russia or to defeat Russia, is to find a way towards peace. That’s what we have to do. And nobody was talking about that. We are glad that now some other people are talking, like the Chinese. Some others are talking. The great intellectuals, like Jürgen Habermas in Europe, of course, Pope Francis, have done that before. But we want to find a way. Maybe it’s not immediately the durable peace we want, but some sort of ceasefire or armistice that can then allow us to get to a peaceful solution to the conflicts, which are there, I mean, and whose deep causes are multiple.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There have been other efforts in recent months to find a — to mediate a solution. For instance, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel has said he was involved, and he thought there was a potential deal last year, but that it was the United States that he believed did not want the war to end at that time. Why do you think that there might be greater success now in the efforts of Lula?

CELSO AMORIM: Well, I cannot be sure that there will be greater success, but we have to try. We never — we can’t give up. We can’t give up on peace.

You know, this is a very dangerous situation. You are in the geopolitical center of the world. You may — even if people declare that they are not going to use this or that kind of weapon, we can never be absolutely sure that this will not happen. And so — and apart from that, thousands and thousands of people are dying. There is a crisis in the world in terms of a food crisis. There is the crisis of energy, where — are affecting especially us, the developing world. I mean, for many countries, there are alternatives. For developing countries, if you don’t have enough to eat, you won’t find it somewhere else. So, for us, it’s absolutely necessary to get peace.

And that’s why President Lula is speaking. It’s not — there is no magic formula. But if you have — you have to talk, instead of just thinking of more weapons, more — greater force. You won’t find any solution. No, I learned with Kofi Annan, who was the secretary-general of the United Nations, you have to talk to everyone, including your adversaries. If you don’t talk with your adversaries, the only thing that you have in front of you is conflict, is war, death. And we don’t want that.

AMY GOODMAN: Celso Amorim, I wanted to ask you about a new movement now, of over the last year but very recently, to go after Putin not only for crimes against humanity and war crimes, but specifically for engaging in war as an act of an aggression. Now, this is very interesting movement. Interestingly, the United States is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, as Russia isn’t, either. Britain isn’t, either. And while it looks like they’re pushing for this in the case of Russia attacking Ukraine, they are not pushing for this as a general category, finding leaders guilty of war as an act of aggression. Now, you were the foreign minister under Lula in 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq under President Bush. You were fiercely opposed. Lula was opposed to that invasion. What about this category, investigating Putin for this, but also what it means for, for example, U.S. leaders?

CELSO AMORIM: Well, you know, I think if you look for indictment of all the leaders who have started wars that they have — shouldn’t have indicted, maybe you wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone. I think the most important thing now — I don’t want to go into the merits, the specific merits, of the possible indictment of one or this or that leader. I think the question is, is now being able to talk to them and to find a way in which a solution, which will not be an ideal one for anyone — of course, I agree with those that say that Russia cannot be rewarded for having initiated the war. On the other hand, of course, there are other deep causes that have to be looked in if you want to have a durable peace.

But the most important thing is where your efforts are directed, if your efforts are directed to war, to combat, to destroy or at least to weaken your enemy, or if your efforts are directed to find as soon as possible conditions for peace, which may imply initially some sort of ceasefire, some sort of armistice, so that the deeper questions — this was done in the past. Unfortunately, they are not going to the merits now, but the Minsk agreements, which somehow have — where some basis for a conviviality, if not a good one, but at least some coexistence — better said — between Russia and Ukraine were not followed, not respected. Well, there are accusations on one side or another. But whatever it is, we have to be in search of peace. If we are just in search of war or defeating your enemy or indicting or finding a criminal, a criminal — a criminal person or a criminal leader, you won’t find anywhere.

We condemned, of course, the War in Iraq, but we never thought we should bring former President Bush to the International Criminal Court. You know, these are different things. You’re now dealing with the need to find a peaceful solution for the war. I mean, moral judgments are very important. I’m not claiming that they should be out. But the most important thing now is to find a peace that is just, that doesn’t reward wrong actions, but which still can help the countries to live there, because, you know, it’s geography. They will be there. Russia will be a neighbor of Ukraine forever, whether you like it or not. So, we have to find a way for them to live as well as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Brazil joined the vast majority of the countries in the world on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion in condemning Russia for the invasion. You know, countries like China, South Africa and others abstained from that vote. So, what would that possible agreement, as you’re talking about — what would a peace agreement — what could you see it looking like?

CELSO AMORIM: Well, I think at this point, as you remember, we voted in favor, but we also made a declarational vote in which we insisted on the point that nothing should be used to prevent negotiations from starting and going on. Well, I have and President Lula, of course, has several specific ideas, but I think rather than putting them publicly at this stage, we would like to talk to all those involved to see where the resistances are, what is the bottom line, the real bottom line, for each side. I mean, otherwise, you go into a rhetoric debate, and the positions get harder and harder, and the negotiation gets more difficult. That was my experience as a trade negotiator. That was my experience when I also tried to be involved in other negotiations of a political nature. That was the experience that President Lula had. So, I think the most important thing is to have an idea how we can at least stop the fighting, stop the killing, and then, of course, move into the conditions for a more durable peace. But we can’t do that publicly. It’s impossible, because, otherwise, everyone feels obliged towards their own public opinion to be — to have maximalist positions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — next month, President Lula will be meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the end of March. China is Brazil’s number one trading partner, and China has also recently put forth a 12-point peace plan. What do you think will be the main issues being discussed between Brazil and China? And what is your sense of the Chinese peace plan?

CELSO AMORIM: Well, two different aspects there. I mean, of course, there will be a lot to be discussed on trade, investment, technology, environment and so on. But let us put that aside for a moment.

And in relation to the peace plan, of course, there is the peace plan by China. There is a peace plan by Ukraine also that we received one or two months ago. We want to discuss. There are positive points there, I mean, like the respect for sovereignty, the renunciation to the use of weapons of mass destruction. All this is positive. But, of course, we have to go further than that.

But China is a fundamental actor, because in all kinds of negotiations of this sort, you’ll need — you need people who can talk and who are able to have influence on either side. I mean, the United States and France and Germany, of course, have a natural influence on Ukraine, but you have to have countries also that have influence on Russia. And China certainly would be one of them. So, we would like to discuss with them, to know how much they have discussed with the Russians, and, of course, to expose our own ideas. But China is, of course, a very important partner for Brazil. That does not mean that you’ll have to agree with China on everything. For a long time, the United States was the greatest, the biggest trading partner with Brazil, and still we disagreed on some points. I mean, we are — we tend to work independently. That is the Brazilian tradition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the — the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited Pretoria last month, and South Africa is currently hosting Russia and China for naval military exercises. South Africa has a long history with Russia and a troubled one with the United States. How does this history shape the alignments of the country today, if at all?

CELSO AMORIM: Well, I think it is important to note. The other day, I heard also the vice minister or the minister — I’m not sure — of Uganda saying similar things about Europe. And when they were under colonial rule, it was the Soviet Union that helped them, not other countries.

But now we have a different situation, and I think we have to look for a peaceful world, a multipolar world, in which the rules of the United Nations will be followed. I mean, I, for one, am very much in defense of — of course, we need also a reform of the United Nations. That’s very important. But we want the Charter of the United Nations and international law to be respected. So, that means that we cannot condone with the invasion of Russia. And whatever motives they have, that’s another question. But you have to seek your objectives in a peaceful way, in a way that privileges dialogue, privileges conversation —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

CELSO AMORIM: Sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds. Celso Amorim, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re also going to have an interview with you in Spanish and post it on our Spanish website at democracynow.org. Celso Amorim, foreign affairs adviser to Brazil’s President Lula. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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