Biden 'confident' relations with Brazil can be repaired

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 17, 2014 8:26 AM

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he was confident relations with Brazil were on the road to recovery after he assured President Dilma Rousseff that Washington has changed the way it conducts electronic surveillance.

U.S.-Brazil relations have been largely on ice since documents leaked last year by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed that Washington had spied on Rousseff and other world leaders.

A day after watching the U.S. soccer team's victorious debut in the World Cup in the northeastern Brazilian city of Natal, Biden traveled to the capital to meet with Rousseff in hopes of turning the page on the espionage spat.

Biden said he and Rousseff had a "candid" talk about the episode and Internet surveillance, and that he was "confident" the hour-long discussion would help thaw relations between the hemisphere's two biggest economies.

"We discussed the common effort we have to protect and secure the Internet," Biden said in a statement. "It is not a government tool of repression. It is owned by the people of the world."

Biden also handed Brazilian authorities a first batch of declassified U.S. documents that shed light on human rights abuses committed under Brazil's U.S.-backed 1964-85 military dictatorship, a gesture of particular interest to Rousseff, who was a political prisoner and a torture victim.

"I hope that in taking steps to come to grips with our past we can find a way to focus on the immense promise of the future," Biden said. "The sky is the limit to what we can achieve together."

Rousseff, who canceled a state visit to Washington last year in response to the espionage scandal, has indicated she is ready to move on from the spat. That could unlock faster progress on trade, offshore oil development and other long-elusive cooperative ventures between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Rousseff told reporters she was eager to reschedule her Washington trip, but only if she gets a "strong signal that (spying) won't be repeated".

In response to the uproar over NSA spying in Brazil, Germany and elsewhere, President Barack Obama said in January that the United States would no longer spy on heads of state of allied countries.

U.S. officials hope that face-to-face assurances from a leader for whom Rousseff has respect will be enough to turn the page on the spying scandal.

Warmer ties could spell gains for both countries. Brazil's economy is Latin America's biggest, but also one of its most closed to trade, and U.S. companies have tried for years to persuade Brasilia to lower tariffs.

Brazil wants U.S. companies to drill for its offshore oil deposits and help with technology to gain access to potentially vast shale gas reserves.

The spat cost Boeing Co a $4 billion fighter jet contract with Brazil's air force. Boeing had been the front-runner but the contract went to Sweden in December. Brazilian officials said they could not buy military hardware from a country they did not trust.

Initiatives dear to business leaders in both nations have also been on hold, including a treaty to avoid double taxation, the fast-tracking of U.S. visas for executives, and regular meetings between corporate chief executives of both countries.

(Additional reporting by Brian Winter in Sao Paulo; Editing by Todd Benson and Peter Galloway)