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Rousseff puts spy scandal behind her with US visit

27 june 2015, 13:05
0
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. ©AFP
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. ©AFP

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff arrives in the United States on Saturday for a long-delayed visit, looking to shore up economic ties almost two years after scrapping a trip following revelations that Washington spied on her, AFP reports.

At the time Rousseff called off her October 2013 visit, the chill between the Western hemisphere's two largest economies was the worst diplomatic fallout to date from Edward Snowden's leaked trove of embarrassing US intelligence secrets.

Both sides have emphasized that the new trip -- a five-day tour that has been labelled an "official visit" rather than the top-tier "state visit" she postponed -- shows the countries have moved past the damaging revelation that the National Security Agency spied on Rousseff's cell phone communications and Internet use.

"We've put that behind us," Brazilian diplomat Carlos Paranhos told a press conference in Brasilia Thursday. He said the trip came about after months of high-level contacts, including direct conversations between Rousseff and President Barack Obama.

"This visit I think really does indicate the extent to which we have turned the page and are moving forward," said senior Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes. 

The trip, which will take Rousseff to New York, Washington and San Francisco, comes as Brazil's first woman president faces a crisis at home.

Rousseff, 67, has seen her popularity slump to 10 percent just six months into her second term. She has been hit by an economy on the brink of recession and a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras that has tainted her party.

"The internal importance of this trip (in Brazil) is much greater than the external importance. At this point in time, it's much more important for Brazil than for the United States," said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Brazilian business institute Insper.

"A picture of Dilma with Obama will be politically significant in Brazil. Symbolically, it communicates a president who is more open to the world, to dialogue."

  Seeking to restore confidence 

Besides sitting down with Obama over the course of four days in Washington, Rousseff will meet with American business and financial leaders, seeking to attract investment and convince them her government's $23 billion in spending cuts will soon right the world's seventh-largest economy.

In New York, she will attend a business conference and seek to drum up interest in her government's recently announced $64-billion infrastructure spending package.

Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, a University of Chicago-trained economist, is going along to present his plans to get the country out of the 1.2-percent economic contraction it is forecasting for this year.

The United States is Brazil's largest investor and second-largest trading partner after China. Last year bilateral trade totalled $62 billion, according to Brasilia, with a balance of $8 billion in favor of the US.

"We think that we can double that trade again over the next 10 years. And I think what you'll see out of this visit are steps that will take us in that direction," said Mark Feierstein, the White House National Security Council's senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Rousseff and Obama's agenda also includes climate issues, with a particular focus on UN climate talks due to take place in Paris at the end of the year.

Feierstein said the meeting needed to send a "strong signal" on the proposals the two countries are preparing to make at the talks, which aim to seal a final deal on curbing carbon emissions.

Brazil has yet to announce its emission reduction goals ahead of the talks.

The South American country, the world's seventh-largest producer of greenhouse gases, also faces the challenge of curbing Amazon deforestation, which contributes to global warming. It is under pressure to make ambitious pledges ahead of the talks.

The White House said Vice President Joe Biden had called Rousseff ahead of her visit to emphasize the importance of working together to achieve a "robust" agreement.

In California, Rousseff will have lunch at Stanford University with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who now teaches international business there. She will also visit the headquarters of Google and a NASA research center.


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