Donald Trump suggested on Tuesday he may back full Nato membership for Brazil during a meeting with the country’s new far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.
The US president said: “I intend to designate Brazil as a major non-Nato ally or even possibly, if you start thinking about it, maybe a Nato ally”.
He added: “I’ll have to talk to a lot of people but maybe a Nato ally – which will greatly advance security and cooperation between our countries.”
Mr Trump’s comments were a step further than had been expected from the meeting between the two populist presidents, who also discussed the unrest in Venezuela and trade.
Brazilian officials said last week that they have been seeking the status of “major non-Nato ally,” which falls short of full Nato membership, but offers financial advantages not available to non-Nato members.
Colombia is so far the only Latin American nation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, becoming a “global partner” in 2018, a status which means it will not necessarily have to take part in military action.
It was a ringing endorsement of Brazil’s new president by Mr Trump, who predicted a “fantastic working relationship” between the two leaders saying “we have many views that are similar.”
In his first official State visit since entering office in January, Mr Bolsonaro bonded with Mr Trump telling a press conference in the White House Rose Garden that the two countries stand “side by side” in respect to “traditional and family lifestyles” and against “politically correct attitudes and fake news”.
Mr Trump also expressed support for Brazil’s efforts to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club of the world’s advanced economies.
Brazil, the world’s eighth-largest economy, applied in 2017 to join the OECD, which has around three dozen members including Latin American countries Mexico, Chile and Colombia.
Discussing the crisis in Venezuela, Mr Trump thanked Brazil for its support in efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the socialist country and attacked its president Nicolas Maduro as a “Cuban puppet”.
“The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere,” Mr Trump said in a reference to socialist-led Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.
He added: “By the way, it’s also arrived, that twilight hour, in our great country, which is doing better than it’s ever done economically. The last thing we want in the United States is socialism.”
The White House gathering brings together two men who were surprise election winners, sweeping to power on a promise to end politics as usual in their giant countries.
Like Mr Trump, Mr Bolsonaro is a populist who delights in shocking leftist opponents and, like the US president, stands accused of darker far-right tendencies.
Since his 2018 election, Mr Bolsonaro has worn his nickname “Trump of the Tropics” with pride. Such are the similarities that Mr Bolton now jokes Mr Trump, elected in 2016, should be dubbed “the Bolsonaro of North America.”
Washington had strained relations with Brazil’s long string of leftist governments but the rise of Mr Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper who talks enthusiastically of combating socialism and killing street criminals, has opened a new door for the Trump administration.
“It’s the first time in a long time that a Brazilian president who is not anti-American comes to Washington,” Mr Bolsonaro tweeted.
A senior Trump administration official told reporters Monday that a new “North-South axis” is on the table.
Mr Bolsonaro’s election “broke all the historic taboos,” said the official.
A Trump-Bolsonaro bonding matters for the US-led campaign to pressure Venezuela’s hard-left President Nicolas Maduro from power, as well as pushing back against growing Chinese economic influence across South America.
Mr Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, an international deal on cutting carbon emissions. Mr Bolsonaro is toying with following suit.
On Monday, Mr Bolsonaro signed an agreement with US companies on technical safeguards to allow commercial satellite launches from Brazil’s Alcantara base.
Brazil is also seeking closer military relations with the United States through what’s called Major Non-NATO ally status, which gives preferential access to the purchase of US military equipment and technology.
The Brazilian leader, who spent years as a fringe congressman before his dramatic elevation to the nation’s highest office, is clearly delighted with the reception he’s getting.
He tweeted that being given use of the White House guest lodgings known as Blair House was “an honor extended to us that very few leaders have enjoyed in the past.” In fact, Blair House is used regularly by White House guests.
Less usual was Mr Bolsonaro’s previously unannounced visit to CIA headquarters on Monday, a sign of US confidence in the Brazilian leader.