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Brazil Tries To Rebuild Relations With U.S. After NSA Spying Scandal

President Barack Obama walks with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, second from right, during a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
Evan Vucci
President Barack Obama walks with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, second from right, during a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

It's rare that a world leader will cancel a planned state visit to the White House, but that's what happened two years ago when Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff found out that the U.S. had been spying on her and her top aides.

The Brazilian leader is now trying to let bygones be bygones, and is in Washington, D.C., to visit with President Obama.

Rousseff's decision to cancel the state visit — with its formal dinners and high-profile meetings — threw a strong and robust bilateral relationship into disarray, says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society.

"It's been very clear that the United States has been anxious to move beyond that," Farnsworth says. "Vice President Biden in particular has been in direct contact with President Rousseff and senior members of her team for a long time."

And after two years, the offer to visit Washington, D.C., was made again, says Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

"Actually, President Obama offered President Dilma to come here on a state visit if she could wait until next year because the White House does just a limited number of those visits," Sotero says. "But she declined and asked to come now because she needs to come now."

A lot has happened since Rousseff took a hard stand against the Obama administration in 2013. Back then, things were much better for her and Brazil. Rousseff needs this visit to help her domestically, says Jason Marczak of the Atlantic Council.

"Her popularity is at about 10 percent right now, 65 percent of Brazilians think she's doing a bad or terrible job, inflation is approaching 9 percent, they've been implementing a series of austerity measures. So for her, one of the top priorities is going to be how do I come home with some economic wins," Marczak says.

The U.S. is also looking for something from this visit. "From the White House perspective this is a chance to really re-energize a very important relationship that frankly has been on ice for the last two years," says the Council of the Americas and Americas Society's Eric Farnsworth says.

He adds the U.S. is looking for bilateral trade and investment.

China has overtaken the U.S. as Brazil's largest trading partner. And a renewed relationship offers the chance to build on issues such as climate change, says the Atlantic Council's Marczak.

"This is a real priority for the Obama administration," Marczak says. "Brazil is obviously not the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter but it's one of the top 10 and the Brazilian case there is an opportunity for agreement on deforestation issues in the Amazon which is one of the big challenges."

Rousseff will also travel to New York to meet with investment bankers before heading to Silicon Valley to drum up business for Brazil's information technology industry.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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