Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has invited Brazil to help negotiate peace in the Middle East, a sign that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has strengthened his country's standing abroad.

IIn an interview in Brazil's Estado de S. Paulo newspaper published on Sunday, Assad said he would discuss the possibility of Brazil helping bring Israel to the table with other Arab countries to diffuse tensions stemming from its policy on Gaza.

Lula along with Turkey unsuccessfully sought to broker a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, "In my view, the combined effort of Brazil and Turkey in the Iranian nuclear question has raised Brazil's role to a new level," Assad said. "For this, we hope Brazil can act to stabilize the Middle East."

In a rare visit to Latin America that started on Friday, Assad is traveling to Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Cuba in a bid to extend his diplomatic reach as Syria emerges from isolation from the West and seeks needed investments in its tattered infrastructure.

Nearing the end of a successful and extremely popular two-term presidency, Lula has intensified his efforts to bring Brazil greater international recognition.

"Brazil's foreign minister (Celso Amorim) said Brazil is interested in the peace process and we welcome Brazil's help," Assad said, suggesting that Brazil might help bring the Israelis to future negotiations with Arab countries in the region.

Israeli security forces killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists on May 31 when it boarded an aid ship attempting to break its blockade on Gaza. Bowing to international pressure, Israel has eased its blockade but tensions between Israel and its neighbors remain high.

Brazil and Turkey helped broker an agreement announced in May under which Tehran would send uranium abroad, similar to an earlier fuel swap plan drafted by the United Nations to keep Iran's nuclear activities in check.

This quickly fell apart as the UN Security Council pushed through tighter UN sanctions against Iran in June, arguing that Iran was merely attempting to stall international demands that it curb its uranium enrichment program.