Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Brazil on a two-day visit that will include talks with President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva on key regional issues, including the crisis in Haiti and relations with Venezuela. On his way home on Wednesday, Mr. Powell stops in Grenada to underline U.S. support for relief and rebuilding in the storm-wracked Caribbean.
Despite seeming ideological differences with Brazil's leftist government, Mr. Powell says the Bush administration has established a close relationship with President Lula, underlined by his White House visit in June.
In a talk with reporters en route to Sao Paulo, the secretary paid tribute to what he said is the leadership role being played by Brazil in the hemisphere, including its command of peacekeeping forces in Haiti and efforts with other members of the informal "Friends of Venezuela" group that helped ease the political crisis in that country.
Mr. Powell made clear the United States is looking forward to a better relationship with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez following his victory in August in a recall referendum.
He said he is gratified that the country's political conflict appears to have been settled in a constitutional manner, while again rejecting the idea the United States helped foment opposition to Mr. Chavez.
"The people of Venezuela have had their opportunity to decide how they wanted to move forward, and they did it in a constitutional means and we're supporting them," he said. "So the suggestion that somehow the United States is the cause of whatever difficulties exist in Venezuela, I don't think it's accurate. There were legitimate grievances that opposition parties had, and they were worked out, worked through, in a constitutional manner."
Under questioning, Mr. Powell said he looks for an early resolution to the dispute between Brazil and the International Atomic Energy Agency over inspectors' access to Brazilian uranium-enrichment facilities.
Brazil has said it is resisting full inspections to protect industrial secrets concerning its enrichment techniques.
Mr. Powell said Brazil should work with the IAEA to "satisfy" its need for oversight, but that the United States has "no concerns" about Brazil becoming a nuclear proliferator, or moving in the direction of anything other than peaceful nuclear power.
The secretary has a series of meetings in Sao Paulo and goes to Brasilia Tuesday for his talks with President Lula and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.
He disclosed in the airborne news conference that he will pay a brief visit to Grenada Wednesday to show support for the island state, where 90 per cent of the buildings were damaged and thousands left homeless last month by hurricane Ivan.
The United States has delivered or committed nearly five million dollars in aid for Grenada, and the administration is asking Congress for $50 million in recovery assistance for the broader Caribbean, including flood-ravaged Haiti.
Mr. Powell said he had considered a stop in Haiti also, but noted that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson had just completed a visit Sunday. He said he did not want to "overload" the storm-ravaged country with two U.S. cabinet visits in less than a week.