Brazil's Lula to meet with top U.S. diplomat as election nears

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FILE PHOTO: Former President of Brazil Lula speaks in Taboao da Serra

By Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's leftist presidential front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is set to meet with the top U.S. diplomat in the country on Wednesday, less then two weeks before the first-round vote in the country's most fraught election in years.

Lula, who opinion polls show has a sizeable lead over his far-right rival President Jair Bolsonaro, will meet with Charge d'Affaires Douglas Koneff, as there is currently no U.S ambassador in Brasilia. His meeting was confirmed by the U.S. embassy.

"As a practice, U.S. diplomats... in Brazil regularly meet privately with political parties and candidates," it said in a statement. "We plan to continue this effort to meet with all the top presidential candidates for the October elections."

The meeting underlines Lula's growing electoral momentum ahead of the Oct. 2 vote.

It is also significant because Lula, a former president who was jailed on corruption charges that were overturned last year, harbors lingering suspicion of the United States, saying U.S. investigators collaborated with Brazilian prosecutors to put him in jail.

Up until now, contact between Lula's camp and the U.S. government has been back-channeled via interlocutors. In May, Reuters reported that Lula had quietly dispatched his emissary, Senator Jaques Wagner, to meet with U.S. State Department officials in Washington in April.

Members of Lula's camp have also met with European diplomats, as well as those from fellow BRICS members Russia, India, China and South Africa, two sources said.

Lula's Workers Party (PT) is also asking foreign diplomats that in the case of a Lula victory, they quickly voice congratulations, seeking to guard against potential efforts by Bolsonaro to question results, one of the sources said.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly made unfounded claims of electoral fraud, seeking to undermine the credibility of Brazil's electronic voting system.

One of the sources said that Wagner and former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim will join Lula at the meeting with Koneff.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)