Jun 9, 2022 - World

Biden and Brazil's Bolsonaro hold awkward first meeting

US President Joe Biden (R) and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attend a bilateral meeting at the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, June 9.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and President Biden attend a bilateral meeting at the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, on Thursday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for the first time on Thursday at the Summit of the Americas.

Why it matters: Bolsonaro, who has recently questioned the legitimacy of Biden's victory of Donald Trump and mocked Biden's age, only committed to making the trip to Los Angeles for the summit after Biden promised a bilateral meeting.

What they're saying: In remarks before the closed-door session, Bolsonaro said he has a "huge interest in getting closer to the U.S," and that he and Biden "share the same values" as they are both "democrats" who "love freedom." While their words were warm, at least in front of the reporters the two leaders sat far apart and didn't shake hands.

  • Biden expressed confidence in the Brazilian election system, which Bolsonaro has baselessly claimed could be rigged against him in October's presidential election. Bolsonaro said he wants the vote to be "clean, reliable and auditable."
  • Biden said Brazil had done good work preserving the Amazon but that the rest of the world should help protect it. Bolsonaro, who has reacted angrily to international criticism over deforestation, noted that Brazil must maintain its "sovereignty in that area."
  • Bolsonaro also defended his decision not to condemn or sanction Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, saying Brazil wants peace but is "dependent on some things from other countries," an apparent reference to Russia.

Between the lines: It's clear Bolsonaro would rather be meeting a different U.S. president, but finally meeting Biden (they hadn't previously spoken) will likely help him counter the narrative that he's isolated internationally.

  • Bolsonaro had sought a promise that Biden wouldn't criticize him over deforestation or his election rigging claims, per AP.

The big picture: Neither leader is investing much in the relationship.

  • Polls suggest Bolsonaro is on course to be easily defeated by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October.
  • Meanwhile, Bolsonaro's supporters expect Biden to be a lame duck after the midterms and are banking on the return of Trump in 2024, writes Oliver Stuenkel of the Fundação Getulio Vargas.

What's next: This might not be Biden's most awkward meeting over the next few weeks. The White House is still working on plans for a potential visit to Saudi Arabia.

Go deeper: Summit of the Americas underscores regional divides

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