PRESIDENT DILMA Rousseff’s decision to call off her state visit to Washington may well be the highest political cost the White House has paid so far in its international relations for the allegations of spying by the National Security Agency (NSA).
Dilma would be the only leader to be offered a state reception by the White House this year, a reflection of the importance the US places in the bilateral ties, the US administration said in a statement.
One should not overestimate nor underestimate the significance of that decision: “It doesn’t mean that the US and Brazil are adversaries,” says Michael Shifter, the president of the Interamerican Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank on hemispheric issues.
But equally there is no way to portray her decision not to visit Washington in October other than as a “setback” in the confidence building process the two countries were going through, argues Shifter, in this interview that I am posting below.
Both presidents took precautions to mitigate the fallout of the announcement: Obama and Dilma spoke the evening before, and both issued statements at the same time, highlighting that the decision was made jointly to prevent an otherwise positive occasion from being overshadowed by one single, negative issue.
In spite of that, postponing the trip involves political risks for both leaders. For Dilma, the risk is to be perceived in the US as being a step closer to the stereotypical anti-US Latin-American populist leader.
Indeed, the leader of a nation – let alone an emerging nation – snubbing, as many American commentators view it, a state dinner at the White House is so unusual that no one I ask here in Washington seems to remember any precedent for it.
But Michael Shifter believes the bigger risks are on the US side. The “high political cost” that Washington is paying “with a critical, critical country such as Brazil” just shows how potentially damaging the NSA spying activities can be to America’s standing in the world if they are not addressed, he argues.
Photo: Dilma and Obama meet in Washington in April 2012 (Roberto Stuckert Filho/Brazilian Presidency)