Days after revelations that the National Security Agency spied on the presidents of Mexico and Brazil, President Obama sat next to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.
President Barack Obama, right, sits next to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, center, during the start of the G-20 Working Session at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. At left is South Korean President Park Geun-hye.Credit: AP
After initial reports, Brazilian officials expressed outrage that the United States had invaded their sovereignty. Responding to a question about a possible discussion between the two leaders about the NSA revelations, a White House spokesperson said the U.S. “will work with the Brazilians so that they have a better understanding of what we do and don’t do.”
The White House pool report described the plenary session of the G20 with the leaders of the world's top economic countries setting around an “O-shaped table,” with Obama sitting next to Rousseff. It further said the two were seen talking before Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered opening remarks.
Before the meeting, a reporter asked White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, “How is the President going to react or deal with the President of Brazil when he presumably sees her at some point?”
Rhodes responded that the United States wanted to verify the facts of what was first reported on Sunday by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald.
“Well, we understand how important this is to the Brazilians. We understand their strength of feeling on the issue,” Rhodes said. “What we’re doing in this case, as we’ve done in other cases since the NSA revelations came to light, is take a comprehensive look at what exactly the allegations are, what exactly the facts are in terms of the NSA’s activities and we will work with the Brazilians so that they have a better understanding of what we do and don’t do, and so that we have an understanding of their concerns.”
“So it’s an important discussion, and the President I think will be able to see President Rousseff on the margins of the G20, I’m sure, and to discuss these issues and we’re also going to continue to work it in other diplomatic and intelligence channels,” Rhodes continues. “We think the U.S.-Brazil relationship is a very important, emerging relationship not just in the Americas, but in the world. So we’ll aim to take steps to work these issues through on a bilateral basis.”
Brazil's Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo has said the United States should apologize, while Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardoso called the alleged spying a violation of Brazil's sovereignty. Rhodes was asked about a potential apology.
“Well, I think what we’re focused on is making sure the Brazilians understand exactly what the nature of our intelligence effort is,” Rhodes said. “We carry out intelligence like just about every other country around the world. If there are concerns that we can address consistent with our national security requirements, we will aim to do so through our bilateral relationship.”
Greenwald told Brazilian news program “Fantastico” that a document dated June 2012 indicated that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s emails were being accessed. Pena Nieto was elected a month later.
The document doesn’t show that Rousseff was having her messages intercepted in the same way, Greenwald told the Associated Press in an email, “[b]ut it is clear in several ways that her communications were intercepted, including the use of DNI Presenter, which is a program used by NSA to open and read emails and online chats.”
Greenwald – a U.S. journalist who lives in Rio de Janeiro – first reported on the NSA spying program for the Guardian after leaks from Edward Snowden, now a fugitive facing U.S. espionage charges. Greenwald previously reported that Brazilian communications were a major target of the NSA operations.