Obama, in Brazil, seeks to deepen Latam ties

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 3:53 PM

By Matt Spetalnick and Raymond Colitt

BRASILIA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama met with his Brazilian counterpart on Saturday as he sought to improve U.S. exposure to Latin America's robust growth while grappling with deadly crises in Japan and Libya.

Anxious to boost jobs back home before the 2012 U.S. presidential election, his visit to the region's economic powerhouse is part of an effort to re-engage with neighbors where the United States faces rising competition from China.

"I want to open more markets around the world so that American companies can do more business and hire more of our people," Obama said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

He has stuck to itinerary of the five-day tour, which also takes in Chile and El Salvador, as world powers gathered in Paris to weigh military action to protect civilians from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and as Japan battles a nuclear crisis.

A planned news conference after his meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was canceled at the request of Brazil, although the two leaders are still scheduled to make remarks without taking questions at 11:40 a.m./(1440 GMT).

The president, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, was greeted by a solemn arrival ceremony at the imposing Palacio do Planalto seat of government.

The gravity of the occasion was briefly interrupted, however, when a reporter for a Brazilian comedy show shouted, "Hey Michelle. Nice to meet you. We are Latin lovers."

The trip was not expected to yield any major breakthroughs on trade barriers, an area where Washington and Brasilia have been at loggerheads in recent years.

It did, however, produce a series of preliminary agreements aimed at boosting trade and cooperation on issues ranging from space technology to joint development of aviation biofuels.

They also signed an "open skies" agreement that will allow U.S. and Brazilian airlines to fly more routes between each country, as well as a general framework under which the United States would help Brazil prepare for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Also, a Brazilian government source told Reuters the United States and Brazil will call for broad reform of the United Nations Security Council in a statement later on Saturday.

GRAVE CHALLENGES

Obama is seeking to boost hemispheric ties that have become frayed at the edges but his attention is sure to be divided.

Senior aides will be with him at every stop to help him stay on top of events as the United States works with allies against Gaddafi and monitors Japan's nuclear crisis.

The White House has justified Obama's trip in large part for its potential dividends of boosting U.S. exports to help create American jobs.

Though Obama remains immensely popular in Brazil, some officials in the Rousseff administration voiced frustration in the run-up to the visit that Washington still does not give Latin America's largest economy the attention it deserves.

Obama addressed those concerns in an interview with Brazilian news magazine Veja published on Saturday, saying that the United States welcomes Brazil's rise on the global stage.

"One of the reasons we see Brazil's rise in a positive light is that we share common values, like democracy and social inclusion," Obama said, according to a Portuguese translation of his remarks.

But a blunt assertion by a senior Obama adviser this week that the trip was "fundamentally" about export promotion irritated some officials in Brazil, where many are proud of the South American giant's increasing role on the world stage.

U.S. officials have said Obama also wants to repair diplomatic ties since Rousseff took office in January. Tensions rose under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over, among other things, Brazil's overtures to Iran.

Rousseff, a pragmatic leftist, has veered back toward Washington and away from anti-U.S. leaders like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez but she will likely insist on concrete results.

(Additional reporting by Todd Benson and Brian Winter ikn Brasilia, Stuart Grudgings in Rio de Janeiro; writing by Matt Spetalnick and Alister Bull, Editing by Doina Chiacu)