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Brazil open to receiving foreign aid to fight Amazon fires if it decides how it's used

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An aerial view shows smoke rising over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, in this August 24, 2019 picture taken with a drone.
An aerial view shows smoke rising over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, in this August 24, 2019 picture taken with a drone. -
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Brazil has softened its stance towards accepting foreign aid to combat the Amazon wildfires but only if it can determine how the money would be spent.

The comments came from presidential spokesman Rego Barros after governors from states in the Brazilian Amazon told Bolsonaro they needed all the help they could get.

At the G7 summit in Biarritz, leaders pledged $20 million (€17.9 million) to combat the fires.

"The Brazilian government, through its president, is open to receiving financial support from organizations and countries. This money, when it enters the country, will have the total governance of the Brazilian people," Barros said.

A spokesman for the US National Security Council (NSC) said on Wednesday that the US had not agreed to the emergency aid package announced by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Speaking on behalf of the NSC, Garrett Marquis said Washington would help Brazil fight the fires directly with the Brazilian government.

"The United States stands ready to assist Brazil in its efforts to combat these fires and did not agree to a joint G7 initiative that failed to include consultations with President (Jair) Bolsonaro," Marquis said in an emailed statement.

Even before the G7 started, Macron called on the leaders to help extinguish the fires burning the vast forest.

In a news conference at the end of the summit with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Macron said the G7 discussed the fires in-depth and would offer $20 million to those Amazon-basin countries who sought help.

US President Donald Trump was not present during the sessions on biodiversity and climate, with Macron arguing the president had bilateral meetings to attend and there was nothing to read in his absence. "The United States is with us on biodiversity and on the Amazon initiative," he said.

Earlier this week, Bolsonaro said he would refuse international aid to fight the fires in the Amazon unless French President Emmanuel Macron apologised for "offensive" comments

The two leaders are embroiled in a war of words over the response to the fires, with Bolsonaro mocking Macron's wife on Facebook and accusing him of questioning Brazil's sovereignty.

But Bolsonaro told reporters: "First of all, Macron has to withdraw his insults. He called me a liar. Before we talk or accept anything from France ... he must withdraw these words then we can talk."

Bolsonaro's chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said the money should be used to "reforest Europe" and went on to accuse Macron of failing to tackle the blaze that hit the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in August.

Michael Gerrard, an environmental and climate change law expert at Columbia Law School, said there was little the international community could do to either force Brazil to accept the cash or to be proactive in protecting the forest.

"So much of international law is about shaming recalcitrant countries into compliance, but [in this case] you have leaders that are shameless. and whose political support enjoys the international scorn, and takes it as a badge of honour," he told Euronews.

The issue of whether or not to accept the foreign money has become complex within Bolsonaro's government, with various cabinet members taking different stances on the offer.

When the fires first hit international headlines, Bolsonaro said Brazil did not have enough resources to fight them. After the G7 offer, his Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the aid was "welcome".

Brazil accepts South American meeting on rainforest protection

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro accepted to meet with South American countries to determine a common policy to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in Brasilia, Bolsonaro said he had accepted a meeting with regional neighbours except Venezuela would be held on September 6 in the Colombian city of Leticia.

Pinera showed some backing for Bolsonaro, saying the sovereignty of the nations with Amazon rainforest in them had to be respected, with Bolsonaro adding that sovereignty had "no price, not even $20 trillion" — a reference to the $20 million aid pledged by the G7.

Read more: How do you stop a wildfire?

Bolsonaro is opposed to greater enforcement of environmental regulations in the Amazon and pledged to increase development in the region. Data from Brazil's space agency suggests that deforestation has increased by 90% over the past 12 months.

He has also slashed funding for the Brazilian environmental protection agency IBAMA by 95%.

Speaking to Euronews on Monday, experts blamed the increase in deforestation for the fires raging in the Amazon and argued that extinguishing them was less important than preventing more fires from starting.

Norway's environment minister called on Norwegian companies with business in Brazil to ensure they do not contribute to the destruction of the forest. The main firms targeted include oil firm Equinor, fertiliser-maker Yara and aluminium producer Norsk Hydro.

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