By Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA, April 21 (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected to avoid criticism of the U.S. and European role in the Ukraine war when he visits Portugal this weekend, two Brazilian officials told Reuters on Thursday.
Lula angered many in the West last weekend when he called for the United States and European allies to stop supplying arms to Ukraine saying they were prolonging the war begun a year ago when Russia invaded.
He made the comments to reporters on Sunday in Abu Dhabi on his way back from visiting China, where he discussed the war with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The remarks brought a strong retort from Washington, where a White House spokesman accused Lula of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda.”
The officials, based in Brasilia, admitted that his comments generated “unnecessary noise” and told Reuters they undermined Brazil’s neutrality and credibility as a broker of peace talks that Lula has proposed by gathering countries not involved in the conflict.
The two officials, who asked not to be named, said Lula will change his message on visits to Portugal and Spain and avoid criticizing the Western allies.
“Brazil does not want to give the idea that we are in favor of what Russia has done or that we have taken a side in the conflict,” said one of the officials.
“Lula will adjust his speech. He is going to reaffirm the need to defend peace,” he added.
The Brazilian leader arrives in Lisbon on Friday and will meet Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo the next morning, followed by lunch with Prime Minister Antonio Costa. Next week he will meet Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid.
Two European diplomats in Brasilia said the European leaders, both Socialists, will use their influence to convince the leftist Lula to see the war in a different light and drop criticism of NATO aid for Ukraine’s defense.
“I think that will happen. Lula is a pragmatic politician,” one of the diplomats told Reuters, requesting anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.
The White House on Tuesday said Lula’s “tone was not one of neutrality” in his comments on the war.
By Tuesday, Lula had already toned down his rhetoric and condemned the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity by Russia, while calling again for mediation to end the war, a peace initiative that the Ukrainian government has criticized.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Lula in Brasilia on Monday and thanked him for his peace efforts, remarking that Brazil and Russia shared views on the conflict.
Ukraine rejected Lula’s proposal to broker peace because it treats “the victim and the aggressor” the same way. Lula has suggested Ukraine needs to make concessions to end the war and Russia could return recently invaded territory but keep Crimea.
The European Union has also rejected Lula’s suggestion that both Ukraine and Russia are to blame for the war.
Earlier this year, Lula turned down a reported German request to supply artillery ammunition to Ukraine.