WASHINGTON — Two years after revelations about U.S. spying frayed ties between their countries, President Barack Obama and visiting Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff publicly closed that chapter Tuesday, declaring that the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil is on an upward swing.
Rousseff canceled a 2013 visit to Washington in the wake of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden's disclosures that the U.S. had intercepted her emails and phone calls, and U.S. leaders have been working to repair the damage ever since. On Tuesday, the two leaders were all smiles in the East Room of the White House, trading bets about the 2016 Summer Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro.
"I believe President Obama," Rousseff said, referring to the U.S. pledge to no longer engage in intrusive spying on friendly nations.
"I trust her completely," Obama rejoined.
Both leaders acknowledged that the NSA leaks had strained the relationship between two of the hemisphere's largest powers. Even still, Rousseff said the conditions today are different than they were in 2013, noting that Obama has since told her that should he ever need confidential information about Brazil, he'll pick up the phone and call her directly.
"Countries do go through crises and difficulties. It's just natural," Rousseff said through a translator.
Aiming to move past those difficulties, Obama and Rousseff put a spotlight on areas of growing cooperation between the U.S. and Brazil as she wrapped up her two-day visit to the White House. The leaders touted a recent defense agreement as well as a U.S. decision Monday to begin allowing fresh beef imports from all 14 of Brazil's states — a longstanding Brazilian request.
Yet the capstone of the attempt to show common cause was a joint announcement on climate change, an issue Rousseff deemed "one of the central challenges of the 21st century."
Brazil pledged to curb illegal deforestation and expand renewable energy use as it gears up to unveil its contribution to a global climate treaty that Obama has been championing and world leaders expect to finalize this year. Although the announcement stopped short of a commitment to bring deforestation down to zero, as many environmentalists wanted, the pledge offered some of the first signs of how Brazil intends to curb its greenhouse gas emissions as part of the treaty.
The South American nation also vowed to restore and reforest 12 million hectares — an area roughly the size of England — by 2030. About three-quarters of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come from destruction in the Amazon rainforest, which acts as a giant absorber of carbon dioxide.
Both the U.S. and Brazil announced plans to increase the share of renewable, non-hydropower electricity sources to 20 percent by 2030. That will require tripling the amount of renewable energy on the U.S. electricity grid, while doubling it in Brazil. The White House said it was counting on gains from Obama's controversial power plant emission rules to meet the new goal.
From its inception on Monday with a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Rousseff's stay in Washington appeared designed to show that the U.S. and Brazil were no longer saddled by the spying flap that drew headlines and outrage from Brazilian lawmakers in 2013 and 2014.
And after an Oval Office meeting and joint news conference with Obama on Tuesday, Rousseff headed to the State Department for lunch, where she was toasted by Vice President Joe Biden — the point person in the White House's charm offensive to regain Rousseff's trust.
Rousseff had been scheduled to be honored with a state dinner in October 2013, an honor meant to demonstrate the growing importance of Latin America's largest nation and a particular nod to Rousseff, who adopted a friendlier foreign policy toward the U.S. than her predecessor when she took office in 2001.
That visit was indefinitely postponed after Rousseff learned the NSA had not only read her emails but also mapped out her closest aides and tracked patterns of how those aides communicated with one another and with third parties.
"There will always be some frictions," Obama conceded. But he praised Brazil as a global power and called it an "absolutely indispensable partner" in U.S. efforts to promote its interests and security around the world.
Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon and Brad Brooks in Rio De Janeiro contributed to this report.
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