SÃO PAULO (AA) – US Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Brazilian capital, Brasília, as part of a two-day visit to South America, which has already taken in Colombia and talks with officials and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
Mr. Kerry will take part in a number of meetings in Brazil, including with President Dilma Rousseff and Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, in an attempt to deepen relations between US President Barack Obama’s administration and Latin America’s largest nation and biggest economy.
The top US diplomat had been expected to make a visit to Brazil, his first trip to the country in the role, to affirm ties between the two countries before President Rousseff travels to the US for a rare state visit this October.
Mr. Kerry is meeting his counterpart, Mr. Patriota, for talks on a number of bilateral matters and is also expected to touch on their recent visit to the Middle East and the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani -- whose inauguration was attended by Brazil, one of 52 countries reportedly represented at the event.
The secretary of state will meet President Rousseff for talks later on Tuesday afternoon.
After Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Brazil in May, the visit by Mr. Kerry is part of a number of high-level visits that will lead to President Rousseff's October trip to the US.
Although President Rousseff has made regular visits to the US, including for the annual opening of the UN General Assembly debate, which is traditionally opened by the Brazilian leader, this will be the first time she has done so at state level, and indeed the first such official state visit by a Brazilian leader in around twenty years.
Reciprocal high-level visits between the two nations have regularly led to the signing of bilateral agreements: President Obama’s visit to Brazil in 2011 resulted in the two nations signing ten such agreements, with five more completed when President Rousseff visited the US earlier in 2013.
- Allaying fears after US spy scandal
Secretary Kerry is arriving in Brazil at a sensitive time for the two countries. Relations between the two countries had been business-like, with some even describing the time since President Obama’s 2011 visit as a "honeymoon period" for the two nations.
However, Tuesday's visit by Mr. Kerry is taking place on the backdrop of a scandal which threatened to sour relations, when allegations of a major US spy program against Brazil and other Latin American countries surfaced just weeks ago.
Brazil’s O Globo daily newspaper released information reportedly gathered by fugitive intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, which alleged that the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) had accessed personal, corporate and government e-mails and telephone calls in Brazil and throughout the region.
US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who helped O Globo gain access to the information, said Brazil was singled out for high-level monitoring and used as a "bridge" to data in states where the US could not gain direct access.
The paper also alleged that at least four countries, including Brazil, had at some point hosted joint NSA-CIA offices on their territories. The revelations led to a number of Latino leaders voicing serious concerns that their sovereignty and human rights had been infringed by the US surveillance programs.
Both the US and Brazil have urged calm over the scandal, but President Rousseff and Mr. Patriota both demanded explanations from the US over the spy allegations, which eventually came in the form of a phone call from Vice President Biden and an invitation for Brazilian officials to visit intelligence-gathering programs in the US
-"No questions, please"
Clearly aware that the subject would be unavoidable during his trip, Mr. Kerry sought to alleviate tension before he even arrived by writing in Brazil’s Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, where he wrote that the US and Brazil "must find a way to work through and move beyond the issue," arguing that the "stakes are far too high" to allow the scandal to derail the two countries' long-standing strategic relationship.
Instead he highlighted areas where the two countries are cooperating, such as science, education and defense, and announced that annual bilateral trade now stood at $75 billion.
The newspaper said that while preparing for the visit, the US had sought to minimize contact between Mr. Kerry and the press, supposedly to avoid diverting attention to the recent spy scandal, and instead have just a statement by the secretary of state at the end of the visit.
However, the Brazilian Ministry of External Affairs, the "Itamaraty", reportedly vetoed this option and will keep to the format of questions from the press for both Secretary Kerry and his counterpart, Chancellor Patriota.
The São Paulo-based paper said there was a fear that new protests could be sparked by Mr. Kerry’s visit, although the recent mass protests in Brazil barely reacted to news of the spy scandal.
It is understood that talks will mainly cover areas which are already strong between the two countries, including energy, trade, human rights and the environment, but will also include talks on innovative technology in a prelude to a US-Brazil conference scheduled for September in Rio de Janeiro.
More prickly topics, including talks over the United States' use of the Alcântara Base in the northeastern state of Maranhão, will be left to be debated at a later date, the paper reports.
The US is hoping to get past the spying accusations as quickly as possible and shore up relations with the regional powerhouse and incumbent President Rousseff, who is up for re-election later in 2014.
Analysts say the US is looking for relations with Ms. Rousseff warmer than those experienced with predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who openly supported ardently anti-American governments, such as Iran and Venezuela.
Ms. Rousseff has instead focused on domestic issues, and foreign trips have so far been restricted to parts of Europe, Africa, South America and the United States.