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Biden "confident" relations with Brazil can be repaired

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after giving a speech regarding the Obama administration's foreign policy record at New York Universi
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after giving a speech regarding the Obama administration's foreign policy record at New York Universi

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he was confident relations with Brazil were on the road to recovery after he assured President Dilma Rousseff that Washington has changed the way it conducts electronic surveillance.

U.S.-Brazil relations have been largely on ice since documents leaked last year by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed that Washington had spied on Rousseff and other world leaders.

A day after watching the U.S. soccer team's victorious debut in the World Cup in the northeastern Brazilian city of Natal, Biden traveled to the capital, Brasilia, to meet Rousseff in hopes of turning the page on the espionage spat.

Biden said he and Rousseff had a "candid" talk about the episode and Internet surveillance, and that he was "confident" the hour-long discussion would help thaw relations between the hemisphere's two biggest economies.

"We discussed the common effort we have to protect and secure the Internet," Biden said later. "It is not a government tool of repression. It is owned by the people of the world."

Biden also handed Brazilian authorities a first batch of declassified U.S. documents that shed light on human rights abuses committed under Brazil's U.S.-backed 1964-85 military dictatorship, a gesture of particular interest to Rousseff, who was a political prisoner and a torture victim.

"I hope that in taking steps to come to grips with our past we can find a way to focus on the immense promise of the future," Biden said. "The sky is the limit to what we can achieve together."

Rousseff, who canceled a state visit to Washington last year in response to the espionage scandal, has indicated she is ready to move on. A thaw in relations could unlock faster progress on trade, offshore oil development and other long-elusive cooperative ventures between the two countries.

U.S. officials hope that face-to-face assurances from a leader for whom Rousseff has respect - she recently called Biden "seductive" - will be enough to turn the page. Their meeting lasted twice the scheduled time.

"He very much respects the concerns Rousseff has. He thought it was important to have a small, private, direct conversation that got into some detail on these issues," a U.S. official said. "That’s what he came here to do."

For security reasons, the official declined to go into specifics of what Biden told Rousseff.

Brazil's economy is Latin America's biggest, but also one of its most closed to trade, and U.S. companies have tried for years to persuade Brasilia to lower tariffs.

Brazil wants U.S. companies to drill for its offshore oil deposits and help with technology to gain access to potentially vast shale gas reserves.

The spat cost Boeing Co a $4 billion fighter jet contract with Brazil's air force. Boeing had been the front-runner but the contract went to Sweden in December.

(Additional reporting by Brian Winter in Sao Paulo; Editing by Peter Galloway and Grant McCool)

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