Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) is welcomed by Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro at Copacabana Fort in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. Photo: AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed what he said would be a “new era” in its relations with “great power” Brazil ahead of a meeting Friday with Jair Bolsonaro, the South American country’s incoming far-right leader.

Netanyahu also stressed that he was going to press Bolsonaro on an announcement – which he has since backtracked on – that Brazil would follow Washington in moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“The president-elect [Bolsonaro] announced he would [transfer the embassy]. You can be certain I will speak with him about that in our first meeting,” Netanyahu, speaking Hebrew, told reporters on his flight to Rio de Janeiro.

Netanyahu spoke positively of the Latin American country.

Brazil, the Israeli leader said, “is an immense country with enormous potential for Israel from an economic, security and diplomatic point of view.”

He added: “We are happy to be able to start a new era between Israel and a great power called Brazil.”

Netanyahu will be one of the most prominent leaders attending Bolsonaro’s swearing-in on Tuesday in the capital Brasilia.

Other VIPs include Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Netanyahu was making the Brazil trip despite domestic political turmoil in Israel and a sharp increase in military activity in neighboring Syria.

Pompeo and Netanyahu will discuss Syria while in Brasilia, according to an Israeli official and the US State Department.

Both Netanyahu and Bolsonaro admire US President Donald Trump and hope to forge closer ties between their countries.

Netanyahu told reporters that Bolsonaro represented a “big change” for Brazil, which for decades had center-left and center-right administrations that aligned with the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of Jerusalem. In 2010 Brazil recognized the Palestinian state.

After his October election, Bolsonaro reiterated a campaign promise to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, earning praise at the time from Netanyahu, who called it a “historic” announcement.

However, the rightwinger later backtracked, saying: “It hasn’t been decided yet.” An embassy transfer could jeopardize lucrative Brazilian poultry and halal meat exports to Arab countries.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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