US Secretary of State John Kerry has travelled 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.
Kerry took 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 and South America in the role, to affirm ties between the two countries before President Rousseff travels to the US for a rare state visit this October.
Kerry met his counterpart, Antonio 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 travelled to Brazil just a few weeks after an international scandal erupted about US surveillance programs. In Brazil, Kerry defended the programs, which threatened to cause a major rift in relations with Brazil and other Latin American nations, saying they would continue despite calls from Brazil to end them.
At a joint press conference in Brasília with his Brazilian counterpart, Kerry said the intelligence-gathering program at the heart of a spy scandal story exposed by Brazil’s O Globo daily newspaper had given “security to North Americans, Brazilians and others in the world” but that he would work to provide transparency for his Brazilian colleagues and others affronted by the surveillance.
“We believe that our intelligence service protects our nation, as well as others. We will continue to do it,” Kerry said, adding that the US had not been “surprised or upset that Brazil would ask questions” and that the regional powerhouse was “owed answers with respect to those questions and they will get them.”
“We will work together to make certain that [these issues] do not get in the way of all the other things that we talked about,” Kerry said, assuring reporters that the US was talking to their Brazilian partners about the program, although operational issues could not be discussed publicly.
Patriota said that US-Brazil relations were maturing on many fronts, but criticized the program and warned that mutual trust and bilateral relations could be damaged if the US failed to give satisfactory explanations:
“We are facing a new type of challenge in our bilateral relation. We run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust over our work. We need to stop practices that violate sovereignty.”
The Secretary of State also met President Rousseff for talks later on Tuesday afternoon, which he described as “very good”.
After Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Brazil in May, the visit by 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.