Brazil needs nuclear weapons, official says

Remarks raise worries about nation's policies


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - A senior official in the left-wing government that took power last week has set off a furor here and alarmed neighboring countries by arguing that Brazil, Latin America's largest nation, should acquire the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.

"Brazil is a country at peace, that has always preserved peace and is a defender of peace, but we need to be prepared, including technologically," Roberto Amaral, newly appointed minister of science and technology, said in an interview with the Brazilian service of the BBC broadcast Sunday night.

"We can't renounce any form of scientific knowledge, whether the genome, DNA or nuclear fission," he said.

Amaral's remarks, coming as the United States faces a nuclear crisis with North Korea and is preparing for war with Iraq over its weapons programs, has reawakened debate over Brazil's nuclear energy and research program, the most advanced in Latin America.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was quick to distance the new president from Amaral's remarks that "mastery of the atomic cycle is important" to Brazil, saying they were not an expression of official policy.

Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, Brazil's most prominent nuclear physicist and the newly appointed head of the state electrical power utility Eletrobras, said yesterday: "Brazil does not have, does not need and should not obtain the knowledge of this technology. The bomb is a plague of mankind."

Da Silva later issued a "clarification" saying Brazil did not intend to develop nuclear arms.

But a dozen members of the U.S. Congress, complaining of his "long-standing relation with and admiration for the Communist dictator and sponsor of terrorism Fidel Castro," sent a letter to President Bush saying da Silva's remarks "raise grave questions concerning the international policies a government of Brazil might pursue under his presidency."

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