WASHINGTON -- A state visit to the U.S. by the president of Brazil was put on hold Tuesday in the latest diplomatic fallout from leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about U.S. spying tactics.
Documents leaked by Snowden and published since July alleged that U.S. intelligence agencies had spied on leaders of several allied nations, including Brazil and Mexico.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff expressed outrage over the news and demanded an apology from President Obama at a meeting this month of world leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Obama spoke at length with Rousseff in St. Petersburg and said he was working to address her concerns, but the overtures do not appear to have gone far enough.
Brazil had threatened to cancel the planned October visit, which was to be the first visit by a foreign head of state in Obama’s second term. In a statement released Tuesday, the White House said Obama called Rousseff on Monday, and the leaders decided to postpone the visit until more progress is made.
“The president has said that he understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged U.S. intelligence activities have generated in Brazil and made clear that he is committed to working together with President Rousseff and her government ... to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship,” the White House statement said.
A statement from the Brazilian president’s office cited a “lack of ... explanations and commitment to cease interceptive activities.”
“The illegal interception of communications data belonging to citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government are a grave matter, an assault on national sovereignty and individual rights, and are incompatible with relations between friendly nations,” the statement said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney cast the decision as mutual, stressing that “the two presidents agreed” on the postponement. A new date was not released.
This is the second bilateral meeting that the Snowden leaks have scuttled. Obama canceled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia granted temporary asylum to Snowden. Putin and Obama met informally days later in St. Petersburg.
The invitation to the U.S. was seen in Brazil as affirmation of the country’s rising status and had long been desired by the government.
However, David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, said standing up to the U.S. over the spying allegations could play well with Rousseff’s domestic base.
“Slapping Obama in the face, standing up to the big neighbor in the North, will be much hyped here and could increase her popularity as she faces elections next year,” Fleischer said. “The idea is it increases Brazil’s standing in the world, by saying we can stand up to the U.S. when they did something very nasty to us, and many other countries too.”
A Brazilian government commission met Tuesday with Russian officials to explore the possibility of a visit to Russia to meet with Snowden.
Rousseff is also promoting legislation that would require technology companies such as Google and Facebook to store data collected in Brazil on Brazilian soil and therefore submit it to Brazilian law.
Staff writer Hennessey reported from Washington, and special correspondent Bevins reported from Sao Paulo.