By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program that monitored Brazil’s communications, as well as other countries around the world, during a joint press conference with Brazil’s Minister of External Relations Antonio Patriota on Tuesday, August 13th.
Secretary Kerry arrived in Brasília at midnight to hold bilateral discussions just one month after a report in O Globo alleged Brazil was a priority country in a large-scale NSA surveillance program that targeted Brazilian telecommunications data.
After a one-hour meeting with Patriota, Secretary Kerry made it clear that the U.S. will not terminate its program. “We believe our intelligence service protects our nation, as well as other people. We will continue to do it,” Secretary Kerry affirmed, explaining that they had prevented the deaths of innocent civilians.
“Those revelations over national security upset some, but I cannot discuss operational matters,” he told reporters.
In July, O Globo first reported that the U.S. had monitored the telephone and e-mail exchanges of Brazilians through a center in Brasília. The information was obtained by former U.S. intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden.
At the time, Brazilian officials pressed the U.S. for explanations over its spying program, which President Dilma Rousseff qualified as a “violation of Brazil’s sovereignty.” Minister Patriota described the U.S.’ justifications as “unsatisfactory.”
In Brasília, Secretary Kerry downplayed the importance of the spying allegations, adding that the U.S. will make sure to provide explanations to the governments monitored by U.S. agencies. “We will make an effort so that those problems do not interfere with all those other things,” the former chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee said, adding that the two nations must look ahead and focus on their shared goals.
“I ask the Brazilian people to focus on the important realities between our countries, which share democratic values and an effort in favor of diversity. Those relations could have a positive global impact, if we continue to work as partners,” Kerry explained.
Although his Brazilian counterpart, Patriota, also stressed the country’s “excellent” commercial relationship with the United States – Brazil’s second largest trading partner -, Patriota was firm in his stance on the spying, calling for an “end to the practices that undermine [Brazil’s] sovereignty” and pose “new challenges” for Brazil-U.S. relations.
On Monday Secretary Kerry was in Colombia, and Kerry’s visit in Brazil began with a trip to the Science Without Frontiers program, which sends thousands of Brazilian students to the United States. President Rousseff was also scheduled to meet with Kerry.
Diana Villiers Negroponte, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, told The Rio Times that Secretary Kerry’s visit is part of an effort to recognize Brazil’s growing role in the region. “There is a concerted effort by the most senior officials in the government to say: ‘Brazil matters; we wish to have a constructive dialogue, constructive relations with the hegemon in South America,'” Negroponte said.
According to her, the spying allegations should not detract from the issues in which the U.S. and Brazil have a common interest, including science and energy. “Brazil takes a key lead in the development of alternative fuel and Brazil is in the lead on automobiles based on alternative automobiles based on alternative fuel,” Negroponte added.
Negroponte added. “If we can stress those positive aspects in the energy field then the NSA can move somewhere down paragraph two or three, but we shouldn’t deny that that is a legitimate concern which needs to be discussed.”