Brazil’s G20 Presidency Kicks Off in Rio with Foreign Ministers Meeting

Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 nations gathered Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro to discuss poverty, climate change and heightened global tensions as Brazil takes on the annual presidency of the bloc.

The ministers and other representatives of the 20 leading rich and developing nations planned to spend two days setting a roadmap for work to accomplish ahead of a Nov. 18-19 summit in Rio.

One of Brazil’s key proposals, set by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a reform of global governance institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and multilateral banks, where he wants to push for stronger representation of developing nations.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Mauricio Vieira said Wednesday during opening remarks that the discussions would focus on the role that the bloc can play in “addressing ongoing international tensions.”

“Brazil is deeply concerned about the current international situation, regarding peace and security,” Vieira told fellow foreign ministers, citing a proliferation of conflicts around the world – not just in Ukraine and Gaza, but in more than 170 locations, according to some studies.

Vieira said more that $2 trillion a year is spent annually on military budgets globally and that more of that money should go toward development aid programs.

“If inequalities and climate change do, in fact, constitute existential threats, I cannot avoid the feeling that we lack concrete actions on these issues,” Vieira said. “These are the wars we must fight in 2024.”

Earlier Wednesday, Lula met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the capital, Brasilia, for about two hours to discuss the issue of global governance and other issues. Blinken, who is on a three-day trip to Brazil and Argentina, later headed to Rio for the G20 meeting.

The pair also discussed the conflict in Gaza, including working urgently to facilitate the release of all hostages and to increase humanitarian assistance and improve protections for Palestinian civilians, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of State.

They made no public comments on the diplomatic row between key U.S. ally Israel and Brazil following Lula’s controversial comments comparing Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to the Holocaust.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday at the African Union summit in Ethiopia, Lula said that “what is happening in the Gaza Strip and to the Palestinian people hasn’t been seen in any other moment in history. Actually, it did when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

In response, Israel declared Lula a “persona non grata”, summoned Brazil’s ambassador to Israel and demanded an apology. In retaliation, Lula recalled Brazil’s ambassador for consultations.

After years of diplomatic isolation under former President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula has sought to reinsert Brazil on the center stage of global diplomacy since returning to power in January of 2023.

Lucas Pereira Rezende, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said Lula was especially well-suited for the role, recalling that during his earlier terms as president from 2003 to 2010 he was once called “the most popular politician on Earth” by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

The G20 “is a very important international stage, especially at a time when the world is facing two major wars, involving large states, and also at a time when multilateralism is in crisis,” Rezende told The Associated Press.

“But Lula is a very strong international actor and has a very strong multilateral role, especially when presenting himself as a leader of underdeveloped or developing countries.”

G20 finance ministers and central bank presidents are set to meet next week in Sao Paulo, and a second meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for September.

– Diane Jeantet and Eleonore Hughes, AP News

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