Donald Trump has praised Brazil’s new populist leader as he welcomed him to the White House, saying the man described as the “Trump of the Tropics” has done “a very outstanding job”.
Mr Trump said President Jair Bolsonaro had run “one of the incredible campaigns” and that he was “honoured” it had drawn comparisons with his own 2016 victory.
The two leaders are expected to discuss a range of issues during their first sit-down meeting, including expanding trade relations, increasing US private sector investment in Brazil and resolving the political crisis in Venezuela.
Both leaders are fierce critics of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
As they sat down for talks, Mr Trump also said he supports Brazil’s effort’s to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and is “very strongly” looking at US support for Brazil’s effort to gain certain Nato privileges.
“We’re very inclined to do that,” the US president told reporters, describing the relationship between the two countries as better than ever.
“I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There’s zero hostility with me. And we’re going to look at that very, very strongly, whether it’s Nato or it’s something having to do with alliance,” he said.
Brazil, the largest and most populous nation in Latin America, has targeted becoming a “major non-member ally” to Nato to make buying US weapons easier and to lower barriers to military and other co-operation with the US.
Days after taking office on January 1, Mr Bolsonaro, a former army captain, said Brazil would consider letting the US have a military base in the country as way to counter Russian influence in the region, particularly related to Brazil’s neighbour Venezuela.
That statement was roundly criticised, including by former military members of his government, and the administration backed off, but Mr Bolsonaro routinely expresses his admiration for Mr Trump and frequently says closer US ties are key to Brazil’s future.
“I admire President Donald Trump and we will certainly work towards shared interests,” he said on Tuesday, adding that just as Mr Trump “wants to have a great America”, he wants to have “a great Brazil”.
In a sign of friendship, the two also exchanged football shirts.
Mr Bolsonaro sought to underscore his pro-America stance with a tweet on his arrival on Sunday.
“For the first time in a while, a pro-America Brazilian president arrives in DC,” he wrote. “It’s the beginning of a partnership focused on liberty and prosperity, something that all of us Brazilians have long wished for.”
He continued that message in remarks to the US Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
“Nowadays, you have a president who is a friend of the United States who admires this beautiful country,” he said.
The Brazilian president, who arrived in the country with half a dozen ministers and a goal of expanding trade and diplomatic co-operation between the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere, also made an unusual visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on Monday.
Mr Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, a Brazilian legislator accompanying him on his first bilateral overseas trip, described the CIA as “one of the most respected intelligence agencies in the world” in a tweet that was likely to raise eyebrows back home in Brazil, where the US and its spy services have been regarded with suspicion in recent years.
Mr Bolsonaro succeeded a leftist who at times had a frosty relationship with the US. In 2013, leaks from Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency had wiretapped conversations of former president Dilma Rousseff, leading to several years of tense relations between the US and Brazil.