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U.S., Brazil ‘Disagree More Than They Agree,’ Analyst Says

April 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's visit to the White House Monday was staged to stress strong ties between the U.S. and Latin America's richest country. Rousseff and President Obama touched on issues of cooperation, including education, energy and trade while ignoring areas of disagreement. Margaret Warner reports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next tonight, the leader of Latin America’s biggest and richest country visits the White House.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: A country once best known by Americans for postcard-perfect beaches and a passion for the game of soccer, Brazil has emerged as a powerhouse competitor in the global economy, achieving the number six world GDP ranking this year.

Along with Russia, India and China, it’s part of the so- called BRIC club of rapidly developing economies. Now this country of 200 million, Latin America’s largest, is demanding to be taken more seriously on the world political stage as well. And, today, President Dilma Rousseff was given a cordial welcome by President Obama at the White House.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m — feel very fortunate to have such a capable and far-sighted partner as President Rousseff.

DILMA ROUSSEFF, President of Brazil (through translator): The U.S.-Brazil bilateral relations are, for Brazil, a very important relationship, not only from a bilateral but also from a multilateral perspective.

Americans and Brazilians love to talk about a strategic relationship. Yet, the U.S. rarely consults with Brazil on the important, global issues.Peter Hakim, Inter-American Dialogue

MARGARET WARNER: But though the hemisphere’s two biggest democracies should be natural allies, they often don’t see eye to eye.

PETER HAKIM, president emeritus, Inter-American Dialogue: It would certainly be hard to say the U.S. and Brazil are adversaries or in conflict, but the fact is, they disagree more than they agree.

MARGARET WARNER: Peter Hakim is senior fellow and president emeritus at Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

PETER HAKIM: Americans and Brazilians love to talk about a strategic relationship. Yet, the U.S. rarely consults with Brazil on the important global issues.

MARGARET WARNER: That shouldn’t be surprising, given Brazil’s history of being a thorn in the U.S. side. In 2010, then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tried to broker a deal with Turkey on Iran’s nuclear program and derail Secretary of State Clinton’s push for U.N. sanctions against Tehran.

Brazil has staked out positions contrary to Washington’s on Cuba, climate change, and the 2009 coup in Honduras as well.

PETER HAKIM: Brazil is in many respects still learning what it means to be a global power. And the way it’s been successful, ironically, is not by joining with the United States, which would have been one route, but rather in opposition to the United States, that it sort of has gained its international prestige precisely by showing its independence of the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: When Dilma Rousseff won Brazil’s 2010 presidential election campaign, Washington had high hopes she would be easier to work with than her one-time boss and mentor Lula. The former Marxist-guerrilla-turned-technocrat has been less assertive and flamboyant on the global stage.

Noted Eurasia group analyst Joao Augusto de Castro Neves.

JOAO AUGUSTO DE CASTRO NEVES, analyst, Eurasia Group: President Dilma’s foreign policy is a little bit less rhetorical or ideological than President Lula’s, her predecessor, was. I think that in the sense that more risk-averse diplomacy, that more conservative in some sense diplomacy is good for not only relations with Brazil and the United States, but actually for Brazil’s goals abroad.

MARGARET WARNER: President Obama made a point of visiting Brazil just two months after Rousseff took office. But it wasn’t long before Rousseff was renewing Brazil’s call for greater global recognition. She used her first appearance at the U.N. General Assembly last fall to declare that Brazil and other emerging powers like India should have permanent seats on the Security Council.

DILMA ROUSSEFF (through translator): It is not possible, Mr. President, to delay this any more. The world needs a Security Council that reflects the contemporary reality we’re living in, a council that includes new permanent and non-permanent members.

MARGARET WARNER: President Obama endorsed another BRIC country, India’s bid for a seat in 2010, but has not done the same for Brazil. And that’s galling to Brazilians.

JOAO AUGUSTO DE CASTRO NEVES: What Brazil expects from the U.S. today, I think, is a treatment similar that the U.S. has with China and India, with other big, large, rising countries. And Brazil thinks that it holds many credentials to be in that seat, to have that permanent seat. And it’s quite puzzling in Brazil to try to understand, why hasn’t this endorsement come?

MARGARET WARNER: Peter Hakim said it reflects Washington’s general lack of attention to all of Latin America.

PETER HAKIM: Brazil is in a region that’s not a central priority of the administration of the United States. It’s not in a region that has any urgency.

Now, Latin America has been relatively successful. And it’s becoming a middle class. There’s no open conflicts in the region. And, my God, we have so many conflicts in so many other places. Latin America, we don’t have to really worry about a whole lot.

MARGARET WARNER: Paulo Sotero, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute, believes the slight is a source of real tension in the relationship.

PAULO SOTERO, director, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute: Brazil has always had this aspiration to sit at the table.

MARGARET WARNER: What does this say to Brazil and to Latin America that President Obama isn’t ready to endorse that?

PAULO SOTERO: It says that — well, that the United States is not ready to recognize Brazil’s role. It pays lip service to it from time to time. President Obama needs to recognize that Brazil’s rise is real. I think that he doesn’t.

MARGARET WARNER: None of that political tension was apparent today. Both leaders stressed basic economic issues.

BARACK OBAMA: Brazil’s been a extraordinary leader in biofuels and obviously is also becoming a world player when it comes to oil and gas development. And the United States is not only a potential large customer to Brazil, but we think that we can cooperate closely on a whole range of energy projects together.

MARGARET WARNER: Rousseff spoke bluntly about the blowback on developing countries from the monetary policies of the U.S. and Europe.

DILMA ROUSSEFF (through translator): They lead to a depreciation in the value of the currencies of developed countries, thus impairing growth outlooks in emerging countries.

MARGARET WARNER: Brazilian journalist Luciana Coelho said the tone is in keeping with each leader’s cool, businesslike personality.

LUCIANA COELHO, Brazilian journalist: I don’t think we will be seeing something like President Bush and President Lula, you know, the two guys who could go for a beer. I would never imagine President Rousseff going for a beer with President Obama. But she’s a very focused and hands on-person. And I think people in Brazil like that.

MARGARET WARNER: Rousseff will concentrate on addressing what’s been a sudden economic slowdown at home, Sotero predicts, with less time for diplomatic adventures abroad like Lula’s bid to get in the Iran game.

PAULO SOTERO: I believe that you will not see Brazil doing the same type of initiative under President Dilma Rousseff. Dilma Rousseff I think understands that Brazil’s presence and influence in the world depends much more on what happens in Brazil.

MARGARET WARNER: Rousseff left the White House today with deals on expanding economic, education and energy cooperation, but without support for a Security Council seat. One administration official described the evolving relationship as a slow courtship, saying you can’t expect a great leap forward from any single visit.

That’s a law, said Castro Neves.

JOAO AUGUSTO DE CASTRO NEVES: These two countries could have a — could do a lot, much more than they do today. The agenda is not as ambitious as it should be.

MARGARET WARNER: So a missed opportunity?

JOAO AUGUSTO DE CASTRO NEVES: It’s a missed opportunity. Or some people would say it’s benign indifference.

MARGARET WARNER: For these two leaders, preoccupied with more pressing problems, this step-by-step diplomacy might be the most that can be expected for now.