RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar says he favors Brazil developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent against any foreign aggressor's attempt to capture its offshore oil fields -- but also to win international respectability.
"Nuclear weapons as an instrument of deterrence are of great importance for a country that has 15,000 kilometers (9,000 miles) of border," Alencar told Brazilian news media.
Alencar's aides confirmed his comments, but officials later tried to distance the government from the statement, saying they were his personal opinion.
Nuclear weapons would also act as a deterrent to ensure security of Brazil's newly discovered vast offshore oil deposits and give the country greater respectability on the international stage, Alencar said.
He cited the example of Pakistan, which he termed a poor nation with "a seat in various international entities, precisely for having an atomic bomb."
Brazil's nuclear profile has come into the news lately after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched a military regeneration program, signed agreements for weapons purchases in Europe and announced plans for building a nuclear-powered submarine in preparation for extensive patrolling of Brazil's offshore oil wealth.
Brazil's nuclear intentions gained further attention as Lula played host to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week and invited the Iranian leader to visit Brazil in November. Lula is scheduled to go to Iran in May next year.
Brazil began its nuclear science activities in the 1930s and mounted an active nuclear weapons research program that lasted through two decades of successive military dictatorships from the mid-160s to mid-1980s.
The program was abandoned after restoration of democracy in the late 1980s, but much of Brazil's technical expertise and infrastructure remained intact throughout.
Lula announced this year that Brazil planned to build a nuclear-powered submarine through a promised transfer of technology from France. It was the first indication that the nuclear program was back on the country's priority list.
Although Alencar cited security concerns over the developing offshore oilfields, analysts said the nuclear program also was favored for its potential to give Brazil a pre-eminent role on the South American continent. Lula and his aides have referred to Brazil as a regional power and campaigned for a Security Council seat for the country.
However, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said in August that Brazil has no interest in developing nuclear weapons. Brazil is a signatory to the 1988 Tlatelolco Treaty that bars Latin American and Caribbean countries from developing nuclear weapons programs.
Analysts said Alencar's comments did not necessarily indicate a policy shift but could offer clues to various ideas at work within the Lula administration.