Blinken tells Lula that US disagrees with his Israel remarks

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By Simon Lewis

BRASILIA (Reuters) -U.S. top diplomat Antony Blinken and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had a "frank exchange" on Wednesday in which the secretary of state made it clear to Brazil's leader the U.S. did not agree with his recent remarks about Israel's war in Gaza.

Lula is in the middle of a diplomatic spat with Israel over comments in which he likened the war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two, leading Israel to say he was not welcome there until he takes back the comments.

"I would say that it was a frank exchange, with the secretary making clear that we don't agree with those comments," said a senior State Department official, who briefed reporters after the meeting in Brasilia.

U.S. officials had previously said they expected Lula and Blinken to have a robust conversation on issues of global security, including the conflict in Gaza that was sparked by attacks in Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

Blinken, whose stepfather was a Holocaust survivor, highlighted U.S. efforts to free hostages still being held by Hamas and get a temporary pause in the conflict, as well as to increase humanitarian aid, according to U.S. officials.

In a separate statement, Brazil's presidential office said the meeting, which lasted almost two hours, involved discussions on topics ranging from the G20 summit to peace efforts in Gaza and Ukraine.

"President Lula reaffirmed his wish for peace and an end to the conflicts in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip," the Brazilian government said. "Both agreed on the need for the creation of a Palestinian state."

Brazil this week is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro as part of its presidency of the G20 group of advanced economies.

Washington, which provides Israel with military and diplomatic support, has urged Israel to protect civilians but defended Israel's right to target Hamas militants in Gaza.

Ahead of Blinken's travel to South America, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols told reporters that sharing ideas on the conflict in Gaza would be "crucial to the conversation" between Lula and Blinken.

U.S. ELECTION, VENEZUELA

In brief remarks in front of reporters as they met at Brasilia's presidential palace, Lula noted that U.S. presidential elections are coming up in November.

Blinken responded that politics in the U.S. were "so polarized" and the election would come down to six or seven battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada.

"There are fewer and fewer undecided voters," Blinken said, in rare remarks addressing domestic politics. "There's a battle for a very thin segment of the electorate."

Democratic President Joe Biden, 81, is running for re-election and is likely to face Republican former President Donald Trump.

The 78-year-old Lula, who during his 2022 campaign pledged not to seek another term in 2026, last year said that seeing Biden run for re-election was a "stimulus" for him to change his mind.

The Brazilian leader and the U.S. diplomat also discussed Venezuela, with Blinken thanking Brazil for its efforts to broker dialogue between Venezuela and Guyana over a border dispute.

Blinken told Lula that the U.S. wishes to see a democratic path going forward in Venezuela.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; additional reporting by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O'Brien)