Relations between Brazil and Iran are shaky. In an interview with the Brazilian paper Folha de Sao Paulo, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who has worked as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top media adviser, declared that the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, is distancing herself from Iran. Javanfekr actually accused Rousseff of having ruined the relations between Iran and Brazil that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula managed to build. "The Brazilian president has been striking against everything that Lula accomplished. She destroyed years of good relations," Javanfekr said. In another interview with the state-run Iranian agency, IRNA, Javanfekr said: "Brazil's new president has newly taken over the post and should be given enough time to gain a better understanding of Iran-Brazil relations and the previous administration's efforts to strengthen ties."
Under the Lula's presidency, in 2010, in a deal brokered with Turkey and Brazil, Iran signed an agreement to send uranium abroad for enrichment. In the agreement, Iran announced its readiness to swap 1,200 kg of its low-enriched uranium for 20% enriched fuel on Turkish soil. The deal failed, however, after the U.S. rejected it. The same year, Rousseff was elected as the Brazilian President and relations between Iran and Brazil stopped being so friendly. The reason was Rousseff's support of a U.N. investigation on human rights abuses in Iran, an initiative led by Washington. As reported by the New York Times, the decision was viewed as a shift from Lula's previous relations with Tehran.
Al-Jazeera noted that even during the electoral campaign, Rousseff, whenever asked about Iran, would say that for her, human rights would come before business – a thought that seems to have made the Iranian government uncomfortable. In 2011, when the Iranian regime realized that the new Brazilian President would not be friendly to Iran as her predecessor had been, the Iranian ambassador in Brazil commented that Rousseff was "badly informed" about events in Iran. "Rousseff," wrote Al-Jazeera, "who was tortured in her youth at the hands of Brazil's dictatorship, and has risen to be Brazil's first woman president, had given signs all along she wanted to cool off relations with Iran. Cooling? No. She now appears to be dumping a bucket of ice water on it. Freezing it."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast said that Iran attaches great significance to relations with Brazil, and dismissed the remarks on Tehran-Brasilia ties attributed to Presidential media adviser Javanfekr, saying they were misinterpreted: "Iran attaches high significance to its relations with Brazil as the largest Latin American country and an emerging global power. In line with this fact, interactions and negotiations between the two countries are following their normal trend; no change has been made to Tehran's attitude toward its relations with Brasilia," Mehmanparast added that "relations between Iran and Brazil have a history of more than 110 years. It seems that certain media outlets and third countries are not happy about good relations between Iran and Brazil and have desperately resorted to a media campaign."
Brazilian media, however, that the Iranian government is indeed extremely irritated with Rousseff, and that in revenge to the new Brazilian policy the Iranian government is making the life of Brazilian businessmen difficult. The Brazilian paper Folha de Sao Paulo reported that the Iranian government put restrictions on Brazilian meat exporters. The Brazilian multinational JBS, for example, kept thousands of tons of bovine meat on hold for three weeks in an Iranian port. The paper also claims that Iranian meat importers reported that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to customs ordering limits on the entry of Brazilian products to Iran.
After the interview released by Ahmadinejad's adviser criticizing Rousseff, the Iranian President declared his intention to visit Brazil in the near future. The Iranian government also stressed that Ahmadinejad would come to Latin America only to meet with Rousseff and not with other leaders in neighboring countries.
The Iranian President nevertheless just came back from a tour in Latin America that brought him to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador, and that intentionally did not include Brazil. Ahmadinejad, however, apparently now feels it was a mistake to neglect Brazil, the largest country in South America and one with a rising economy. The Iranian president apparently hopes once again to charm the Brazilian government, which could be an important political and economic partner. Under Lula's presidency, in fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that among the Latin American countries, Brazil was the largest trading partner of Iran. Data also shows that in 2008, Iran's trade with Latin America tripled to $2.9 billion.
While the Iranian government hopes to revive the lost friendship, the Brazilian government seems to hope that the Ahmadinejad's trip to Brazil will not happen so soon. The website "Brazil Dispatch" reported that Brazilian commentators "rejoiced that Brazil had been spared the embarrassment of hosting Ahmadinejad during his recent tour of Latin America." Political commentator Sergio Leo, writing in the newspaper Valor Economico, pointed out that Ahmadinejad's decision not to visit Brazil during his recent Latin American trip was welcomed by the Brazilian government. Leo commented that Brazil's relief at not being approached was exorbitant. The main issue, according to local media, was that while Rousseff seems unwilling to compromise on human rights, the Iranian government is equally unwilling to respect them. This is why for Ahmadinejad now, any rapprochement with Brazil will not be easy.