SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil's president on Tuesday walked back his country's initial rejection of a $22.2 million package from the Group of Seven nations to help fight fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest.
But President Jair Bolsonaro said any consideration of the aid remained tied up in his dispute with French President Emmanuel Macron — even as officials in the fire-stricken regions spoke of negotiating directly with other countries for help if needed.
Bolsanaro said he wouldn't make a final decision until Macron apologized for remarks that Bolsonaro considered a challenge to his credibility and an attack on Brazil's sovereignty.
"Before speaking or accepting anything from France, even if it comes from the best possible intentions, he must retract his words. Then we can talk," he told journalists.
His comments were the latest escalation of the feud between the two presidents while the world's most precious rainforest burns.
Macron threatened last week to block a free-trade agreement between the European Union and South America, saying Bolsonaro lied to him about his commitment to the environment. Over the weekend, Bolsonaro appeared to mock the appearance of Macron's wife.
Brazil's ambassador to France told national television early Tuesday that the country would reject the G-7 offer because it was not involved in the decision-making process.
Bolsonaro - a climate change skeptic - has questioned the donors' "colonial mentality."
"We cannot accept that a President, Macron, issues inappropriate and gratuitous attacks against the Amazon," he tweeted. "Nor that he disguises his intentions behind an 'alliance' of the G-7 countries to 'save' the Amazon, as if it were a colony or no man's land."
Macron said Monday that an international statute protecting the forest would be "a real possibility if a sovereign state took concrete actions that clearly went against the interest of the planet."
"The challenge when it comes to climate is such that nobody can say 'it is not my problem.'"
Brazil has long been wary of foreigners' interest in the Amazon.
Bolsonaro's administration appeared split on whether to accept the money. His environmental minister said Monday he welcomed the aid.
"I think we need to aggregate as many tools as possible to resolve this," Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles said on Brazilian television. Governors in the Amazon said they were willing to bypass Brazil's federal government and negotiate directly with Europe if necessary.
"We cannot be without these resources," Amazonas state governor Wilson Lima told the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo on Monday.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo urged European countries to channel aid through the United Nations Climate Convention instead of creating new initiatives.
"It is very clear, that some political channels, are trying to extrapolate real environmental concerns and use them in a fabricated 'crisis' as a pretext to introduce mechanisms for foreign control of the Amazon," he tweeted.
Brazil has been open to support from some countries.
Bolsonaro said Sunday he had accepted an offer from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to send Israeli airplanes and pilots experienced in fighting fires. President Trump has said the United States is ready to help, but has not offered specifics.
Bolsonaro tweeted last week about working with Trump "for an environmental policy that respects the sovereignty of countries."
Several of Brazil's South American neighbors have also offered help. Bolsonaro said Tuesday he planned to meet with Colombian President Iván Duque to discuss the fires and "develop a joint plan that respects with our sovereignty and development."
Bolsonaro campaigned on a promise to open the Amazon up for business and development. Since his inauguration in January, deforestation and fires - many of them started by farmers and loggers to clear land - have surged.
The number of blazes in the Amazon states has risen by more than 75 percent this year, and the rate at which they're scorching the earth has doubled.
The Amazon serves as the lungs of the planet, a key defense against climate change. It takes in 25 percent of the carbon dioxide absorbed by the world's forests.
But scientists warn that deforestation is approaching a tipping point - between 20 percent and 25 percent - when the damage could be irreversible, and large swaths could transform into savanna.
Earlier this month, Germany and Norway cut a combined $72 million in aid to the Amazon after Bolsonaro said he would give some of the money to cattle and soy farmers.
The fires have become Bolsonaro's biggest international and domestic crisis since taking office. Macron has threatened to block the long-negotiated Mercosur-European Union trade deal over Bolsonaro's Amazon policies, and polls show support for Bolsonaro and his government is slipping.
Seven Brazilian states have called on the army for help with the fires. On Saturday, the Defense Ministry announced 44,000 soldiers were ready to deploy to fight the fires in the Amazon, an area that spans 61 percent of the country, or more than 3.2 million square miles.
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This article was written by Marina Lopes and Terrence McCoy, reporters for The Washington Post.
McCoy reported from Rio de Janeiro