US National Security Agency

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff 'cancels US visit' in NSA wiretap row

Obama phone call to Brazilian president said to have been not enough to save October visit, amid fury over Snowden leak of NSA wiretap

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 5:02am

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has cancelled a state visit to Washington next month over reports that the United States spied on her personal communications and those of other Brazilians, two government officials told Bloomberg yesterday.

A leading Brazilian newspaper also reported the trip was off. O Globo gave no source for its information.

Rousseff, who was infuriated by the spying reports, decided to cancel despite a 20-minute telephone call from US President Barack Obama on Monday night in a last-minute attempt to salvage the trip, O Globo newspaper said.

If Rousseff confirms she will not go, it would be a big blow to US-Brazilian relations. Ties had been improving steadily since Rousseff took office in 2011 but were upset by reports that the National Security Agency snooped on e-mails, text messages and calls between the president and her aides.

O Globo said Rousseff was not satisfied with US explanations of the espionage, revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. US officials said the NSA surveillance was aimed at tracking suspected terrorist activity and did not pry into personal communications, but Rousseff was not convinced.

Reports of the espionage were based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Rousseff's visit, scheduled for October 23, is intended to highlight the improvement in ties between the two biggest economies in the Americas and Brazil's emergence over the past decade as a regional power.

The trip has been seen as a platform for deals on oil exploration and biofuels technology, and Brazil's potential purchase of fighter jets from Chicago-based Boeing.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, a lawyer linked to Snowden said the former defence contractor is living under guard at a secret location in Russia but is able to travel incognito and is expecting family visits.

"No one is being told his place of residence. This is done on his request because we understand that the level of danger is quite high," Anatoly Kucherena told RT television, the Interfax news agency reported ahead of the broadcast. "I think it is still impossible to say or 'unscramble' his place of residence."

Presenter Sophie Shevardnadze wrote on Twitter that the full interview would probably air on Monday on RT, an English-language channel funded by the Russian government.

Snowden has remained hidden from view since Russia granted him temporary asylum on August 1 and he left the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he had been trapped since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.

Kucherena said Snowden had security guards.

"They do not necessarily have to be Russian security forces. We have quite a few private firms," he said.

He said Snowden was able to travel and walk around without being recognised, despite his worldwide fame and the media hunt for his hiding place.

"He walks around. He can travel. He does travel, because he is interested in our history," Kucherena said.

Asked if people had recognised Snowden, he said: "No, so far no one has recognised him."

He confirmed that Snowden's father planned to visit him, as did other family members.

"His mother will probably come too, and maybe his grandmother and grandfather," Kucherena said.

Reuters, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse