Brazil snubs Obama over NSA spying

Brazil took the extraordinary step Tuesday of putting off a state visit by President Dilma Rousseff over allegations of U.S. spying.

The White House said the two countries had jointly agreed to “postpone” the Brazilian president’s Oct. 23 trip during a phone conversation Monday evening, but no new date was set for the visit. In addition, Brazil said it was unhappy with the U.S. response to the spying charges so far. 

Rousseff’s visit was scheduled to be the first official state visit of Obama’s second term, marking the United States’s increasing cooperation with the Latin American economic giant. It would have included a full dinner at the White House, with a top-notch guest list.

The decision by Brazil follows allegations that the National Security Agency spied on Rousseff’s emails and phone calls, and is the latest reverberation in the surveillance scandal that has bedeviled the White House.

In its statement, the White House said it wanted to avoid a situation in which the controversy would have overshadowed the visit.

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“President Obama and President Rousseff both look forward to the State Visit, which will celebrate our broad relationship and should not be overshadowed by a single bilateral issue, no matter how important or challenging the issue may be,” the White House said. “For this reason, the presidents have agreed to postpone President Rousseff’s State Visit to Washington scheduled for October 23.”

But Brazil blamed the postponement on its dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s response to the spying allegations.

“The two presidents decided to postpone the state visit since the outcome of this visit should not be conditioned on an issue which for Brazil has not been satisfactorily resolved,” Rousseff’s office said.

“The illegal interceptions of communications and data of citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government represents a serious act which violates national sovereignty and is incompatible with democratic coexistence between friendly countries,” it said.

Brazil had already signaled the state visit was in jeopardy from the reports of NSA snooping on Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Obama addressed the concerns of the two U.S. allies at a summit in Russia earlier this month. Rousseff at the time warned she was not completely satisfied with U.S. answers, and said this could jeopardize the state visit.

“My trip to Washington depends on the political conditions to be created by President Obama,” Rousseff told reporters before leaving Russia, according to Reuters.

Rousseff’s ire was sparked by American journalist Glenn Greenwald’s report earlier this month for Brazil’s Globo TV that the NSA had spied on her emails and phone calls. Rousseff canceled her advance team preparing for the trip earlier this month and demanded answers from Obama when the two met on the margins of the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The White House said it is reviewing its intelligence protocols to avoid similar incidents in the future.

“The president has said that he understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged U.S. intelligence activities have generated in Brazil and made clear that he is committed to working together with President Rousseff and her government in diplomatic channels to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship,” the White House said. “As the president previously stated, he has directed a broad review of U.S. intelligence posture, but the process will take several months to complete.”

Given the lack of trust between the two parties, Obama and Rousseff had no choice but to postpone the visit, said Paulo Sotero, director of the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute.

He said Rousseff, who faces re-election next year amid a slowing economy, certainly benefits from asserting herself against the American giant. But he said the public outrage over the spying allegations was very real.

“There is a real level of outrage,” Sotero told The Hill. “Brazilians feel bad the president is being spied on by a country that has described Brazil as a strategic partner.”

He said delaying the visit for several months — there are already talks of holding it in the spring — could end up producing a closer relationship, unless new revelations permanently derail those plans.

“If the trip is to take place [both parties] will have to redouble their efforts to make it productive,” he said.

—This story was posted at 1:59 p.m. and updated at 8:17 p.m.

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