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Bush Discusses Economic Growth, Free Trade with Brazilian President

President Bush met Friday with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. It's their first meeting since the end of the war in Iraq which the Brazilian leader opposed.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the two leaders discussed economic growth and free trade in North and South America along with the advance of democracy and freedom and joint efforts to fight terrorism.

Ahead of their Oval Office meeting, President Bush told reporters that U.S.-Brazilian relations are central to a stable Western Hemisphere where both leaders hope to increase trade.

"Brazil is an incredibly important part of a peaceful and prosperous North and South America," Mr. Bush said. " I can say from the perspective of the United States, this relationship is a vital and important and growing relationship."

Brazil's leftist government is often critical of Washington's foreign policy, most recently opposing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq because President Bush refused to give U.N. inspectors more time to search for weapons of mass destruction.

There was no public talk of those differences at the White House Friday where the two leaders followed their formal talks with a private lunch.

President da Silva is looking to boost the more than $20 billion worth of annual trade between the countries, part of a relationship that he says is already strong and can be strengthened further.

President Bush praised the Brazilian leader for working to improve his country's economy and living conditions for the poor.

"On a personal perspective, I am very impressed by the vision of the president of Brazil," he said. "He's a man who clearly has deep concerns for all the people of Brazil. He not only has a tremendous heart, but he's got the abilities to work closely with his government and the people of Brazil to encourage prosperity and to end hunger."

White House officials say the two leaders also discussed social challenges facing Africa including hunger, poverty, and the spread of AIDS.