A Quiet Lunch

Two Mondays ago, at United Nations headquarters in Geneva, some guests had a quiet lunch together. Apparently encouraged by our ambassador there, Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo, the luncheon sent a signal to the world. But as these signals go in diplomatic circles, it was a calculated risk to assuage old friends and temper new enemies.

This weekend, President Obama will visit Brazil. As an emerging economic powerhouse, grouped together with China, India, and Russia, Brazil's presence among influence peddlers is increasing. Economically, militarily, and politically. Its strategic importance is being recalculated by governments everywhere. These shifting winds were captured in an editorial a few days ago in one of Brazil's leading newspapers: "The government of President Dilma Rousseff no longer advertises in word alone that it's disassociating itself from Lula's complacency: It is confronting atrocities committed by despotic regimes with which Brazil is aligned in a clumsy attempt to parade its anti-Americanism around the world."

The lunch conversation turned to a new beginning. That the luncheon even occurred was unprecedented. In Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad probably felt sick to his stomach. He probably thought of his friend in Libya. Muammar Gadhafi, were he not so preoccupied with preserving his dictatorship in the current uprising, might have had some advice to give the Iranian president. Perhaps something like "power isn't what it used to be."

Today in Tokyo, being on the precipice of nuclear meltdown is terrifying the people of the world. As a result, in Washington DC politicians are feeling more heat for failed attempts to prevent nuclear proliferation in nations like North Korea. In Jerusalem, the military options are being put through more preparatory exercises to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

I imagine Shirin Ebadi looked in the eyes of her luncheon host. Soft spoken but with an irrefutable force, she thanked the ambassador for his "support." The translators were busy keeping the cadence of the conversation. Your country "needs to support us when there are massacres," she is quoted as saying.

A month ago, President Obama came out stronger in defense of human rights for all. He characterized the struggles in Egypt as being fought around the world by innocent people enslaved under dictatorships. He spoke of the naturalness of freedom and respect for all people. His call reversed the direction of his earlier use of discretion to avoid the topic of human rights abuses, even egregious ones, committed by nations such as China.

The whole world has changed and will continue to change as democracy spreads by grassroots and authentically elected governments. The age of technology will push through geographic, man-made borders that outline nations. There are no borders in cyberspace. These are probably conclusions the lunch guests, if they didn't arrive with, certainly left with. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ebadi graciously thanked her host, the ambassador from Brazil. Later she is quoted as saying about his country, "Brazil has begun to redeem itself from having supported so many dictators in recent years."

The Geneva luncheon was carefully orchestrated diplomacy to bridge commonality for President Obama and Brazilian President Rousseff when they meet in Brasília later this week to stand together for worldwide democratization. Not long ago there was no bridge.

Shirin Ebadi will be in New York, Washington DC, and Chicago next month on an author tour for her new memoir The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny.