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Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff addresses a news conference after a ceremony to announce Measures of Consumer Protection at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia in this March 15, 2013 file photo. Rousseff remains the clear favorite to win re-election as president of Brazil in October 2014, but the threat of rising inflation and unemployment, a trio of attractive opposition candidates, and the possibility of an embarrassing logistical debacle at the World Cup mean that Rousseff is less of a shoo-in than many observers think. To match Analysis BRAZIL-ROUSSEFF/ REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/Files (BRAZIL - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT BUSINESS)

Southern challenge

Fernando Caulyt, Jan D. Walter / cmk
September 20, 2013

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has demanded an explanation and apology from the US for alleged NSA spying, and has called off an upcoming state visit to Washington. Brazil could benefit from its defiance, say experts.


Despite a private meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg and a 20-minute phone call, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her US counterpart Barack Obama have been unable to resolve their dispute over the alleged National Security Agency (NSA) spying in Brazil. That has led Rousseff to postpone a highly anticipated state visit to Washington, originally scheduled for October.

Rousseff has called for the investigation of allegations of espionage by the NSA. In early September, Brazilian broadcaster Globo aired a report with evidence alleging that US authorities have been monitoring the president's phone calls and e-mails.

In a conversation at the sidelines of the G20 summit on September 6, Obama is said to have taken responsibility for investigating the matter, and promised to provide Rousseff with more information within a week. But after the deadline passed without further comments from the north, a phone call was unable to avoid the diplomatic crisis.

Much to discuss

Officially, the meeting was moved lest the subject of alleged spying overshadow the many items on the agenda: the lifting of visa requirements, a double taxation agreements and Brazil's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. In addition, Boeing plans to make a deal with the Brazilian Air Force to supply combat aircraft.

Markus Fraundorfer, of Hamburg's GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, said eh sees another motive for Rousseff's decision. "The rejection is an expression of the new self-confidence with which Brazil is facing the world and the US government."

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) sits next to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (C) during the start of the G20 Working Session at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, September 5, 2013. Seen at far left is South Korean President Park Geun-hye. REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS)
A private meeting at the G20 summit wasn't enough to resolve the controversyImage: REUTERS

The state meeting, according to most observers, likely wouldn't have resulted in concrete agreements even without the NSA affair. "The visit was expected to have had more of a symbolic value," said the David Fleischer, a political scientist and professor at the University of Brasília.

"Rousseff wants to normalize relations after they deteriorated under [former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva]," he said.

The last official state visit between the two countries took place in 1995, between former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Bill Clinton.

Appropriate response

The cancellation of a bilateral summit is unusual, but experts see the decision as reasonable. "A disproportionate reaction would have been to recall the Brazilian ambassador to Washington. A postponement of the state visit is not exaggerated," said Valeriano Costa, a political scientist professor at the University Campinas, near Sao Paulo. Fraundorfer also said the postponement was a appropriate move, "given the response of the US president."

Readers of German online newspapers also widely supported Rousseff's reaction. According to their comments, many users would have liked to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel react in similar way when the alleged NSA spying was uncovered in Germany. "Brazil is not just a province of the United States," wrote a reader on "Zeit.de".

Southern defiance

Rousseff's response first and foremost an attempt to avoid "coming to Washington as a neglected, humiliated head of state," said Fleischer.

Fraundorfer said Brazil could even profit from Rousseff's decision: "As one of the few countries that so resolutely protested against the US surveillance, Brazil's reputation could enjoy a boost, especially from the view of developing countries."

But Fraundorfer said he doesn't think the postponed state visit indicates a danger to future relations between the two countries: "The damage was caused by the NSA spying scandal. In the short term, bilateral negotiations may be slowed, but in the long term the relationship will not be harmed."

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