RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazil's foreign minister on Tuesday excoriated U.S. surveillance practices, dismissing as unsatisfactory Secretary of State John Kerry's explanation of the wide-ranging collection of data on telephone and electronic communications and describing the spying as "a new type of challenge" in Brazil's relationship with the United States.
Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota issued the expression of indignation over the National Security Agency's spying programs while standing next to Mr. Kerry at a news conference in Brasília, the capital, where the secretary of state had stopped on a two-day trip to South America -- largely in an attempt to allay concerns in Brazil over the NSA's spying.
Resentment has festered in Brazil since revelations of the surveillance practices emerged in July, detailing how the agency established a data collection center in Brasília and prioritized Brazil, with its vast telecommunications hubs and large population of 200 million, as among the agency's most spied-upon countries.
Washington's ties with Brazil remain warm: President Dilma Rousseff is scheduled to go to the White House in October for a highly anticipated state visit; high-level contacts continue in areas such as energy and agriculture, according to Mr. Patriota; and trade between the two nations is thriving (although still eclipsed by Brazil's robust commerce with China). Still, the surveillance has clearly struck a nerve.
Mr. Patriota, a former ambassador to the United States, said the surveillance practices "cast a shadow of distrust" over bilateral relations, and that "listening to explanations doesn't mean accepting the status quo."
Mr. Kerry absorbed these comments before defending the programs and trying to assuage concerns. "Brazil is owed answers with respect to those questions, and they will get them," he said. "And we will work together very positively to make certain that this question -- these issues -- do not get in the way of all the other things that we talked about."
Convincing Brazil that such spying is needed may be an uphill struggle, but the Obama administration knows that, without strong ties with Brazil, the United States cannot have a satisfactory approach to a range of issues in Latin America, including energy integration, curbs on environmental degradation and the fight against drug trafficking.
Mr. Kerry tried to emphasize the positive aspects of relations with Brazil by focusing on subjects such as the government's plans to send tens of thousands of Brazilian students to U.S. universities and vigorous bilateral trade, tilted to advantage the United States in the form of an ample surplus.
Still, it was clear at the end of Mr. Kerry's visit that solutions to certain problems remain unresolved, such as the U.S. requirement that Brazilians traveling to the U.S. have visas, even though Brazilians rank among the highest-spending foreign tourists and Brazilian companies are increasingly investing in the U.S.
Brazil, for its part, has maintained warm and even improving relations with Washington, while simultaneously raising its economic and diplomatic profile in the developing world, especially in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. In Cuba, Venezuela and other countries where the United States is officially viewed as antagonistic, Brazil has emerged as a major trading partner.