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Brazilian president snubs Obama, cancels state visit over NSA spying

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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A last-minute plea from President Obama couldn’t stop Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff from postponing an October state visit, after revelations that American intelligence spied on her presidential communications allegedly sent her into a rage.

Reuters reports that Obama spent 20 minutes on the phone with Rousseff Monday night, apparently trying to salvage the first state visit by the up-and-coming South American nation in nearly two decades.

White House press secretary Jay Carney tried to play down the cancellation on Tuesday, telling reporters that the decision was a mutual one. “The president agreed with President Rousseff that it is important to celebrate our broad relationship, and that relationship should not be overshadowed by a single issue,” he said.

The often-frosty relations between the United States and Brazil had been steadily warming since Rousseff took office in 2011. But after documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the spy agency was snooping into the Brazilian president’s conversations with top aides and advisors, along with the communications of powerful Brazilian corporate interests, Rousseff became incensed.

“The Brazilian government is determined to obtain clarifications from the US government about any possible violations committed,” she said last week. “If the facts in the report are confirmed, then it’s evident that the motive for the . . . espionage is not security or to fight terrorism, but economic and strategic interests.”

At a White House meeting last Wednesday, national security advisor Susan Rice told the Brazilian foreign minister that his country had a right to be angry, admitting that the spying “raise[s] legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed.”

But Rousseff wants a public apology from Obama and the United States, a move President Obama may have seen as a bridge too far on Monday night.

State visits are lavish affairs rarely bestowed on visiting heads of state. Brazil enjoyed its last state visit back in 1995, and it is the only country to be offered one by President Obama this year. Paulo Sotero, a Brazil-U.S. relations expert, told The Wall Street Journal that such invitations are extended “only to countries where the U.S. really wants to invest.”

As such, Rousseff’s postponement is more than just a diplomatic embarrassment to President Obama. “It throws a bucket of cold water on the bilateral trade relationship,” said Gabrielle Trebat, director of a D.C.-based strategic advisory firm, during a phone call with Bloomberg. “It jeopardizes numerous commercial interests, especially private sectors that require good political cooperation.”

Sotero seconded that opinion, claiming that “a lot of Brazilian and American businessmen would very much regret” the cancellation.

Rousseff released her own statement on the postponed visit Tuesday afternoon. “Given the proximity of the scheduled state visit to Washington and in the absence of a timely investigation . . . there aren’t conditions for this trip to be made. The Brazilian government is confident that when the question is settled in an adequate manner, the state visit can quickly occur.”

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