WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's national security adviser conceded there are legitimate questions about U.S. spying on its allies, the White House said Wednesday as it sought to sooth Brazil's concerns about far-reaching surveillance by the National Security Agency.
A White House meeting between Susan Rice and Brazil's foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, constituted the latest attempt by the Obama administration to stem the damage to foreign relations inflicted by revelations by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. But it was not immediately clear whether that damage had been repaired.
In the meeting, Rice acknowledged that recently revealed surveillance programs have sparked tensions in an otherwise close U.S.-Brazilian relationship, said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council. She said some of the NSA's activities have been distorted by Snowden's leaks to the news media while others "raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed."
"The United States is committed to working with Brazil to address these concerns, while we continue to work together on a shared agenda of bilateral, regional and global initiatives," Hayden said.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been among the most vocal of foreign leaders expressing outrage over U.S. spying. After leaked documents showed U.S. spy agencies had monitored her communications, Rousseff threatened to cancel a planned state visit to Washington.
After discussing the issue with Obama during an economic summit last week in St. Petersburg, Russia, Rousseff asserted that spying on a friendly country is incompatible with democratic alliances. She said Obama had promised answers and told her he didn't want her to cancel her trip.
"I want to know everything that they have. Everything," Rousseff said.
The White House didn't say what specifics, if any, Rice offered Brazil on Wednesday.
But even as the two officials prepared to meet in Washington, new revelations offered further fodder for Brazilian concerns about the surveillance. A report Sunday by Globo TV, based on leaked documents from Snowden, said the NSA targeted Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras. It also said the NSA targeted the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, an organization that oversees international bank transfers thought to be secure transactions.
The NSA programs have sparked international consternation from Latin America to Asia and Europe.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who shared his concerns during his own private meeting with Obama last week, has said reports the NSA had kept tabs on his communications, if true, would constitute an illegal act. And Obama found himself on the defensive last week during a stop in Stockholm, where he insisted the U.S. wasn't targeting the personal communications of average Europeans but acknowledged that the programs haven't always worked as intended and said "we had to tighten them up."