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Kerry visit to Brazil overshadowed by NSA spying controversy

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (R) reacts during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at Planalto Palace in Brasilia August
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (R) reacts during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at Planalto Palace in Brasilia August

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The United States pledged on Tuesday that Brazil and other allies will get answers about American communications surveillance aimed at thwarting terrorism, but gave no indication it would change the way it gathers such information.

Secretary of State John Kerry urged Brazil not to let recent revelations of secret internet surveillance by the United States derail growing trade, diplomatic and cultural relations between the two largest economies in the Americas.

"Brazil is owed answers and will get them," Kerry said on his first visit to Brasilia as the top U.S. diplomat.

"Brazil and other countries will understand exactly what we are doing, why and how - and we will work together to make sure that whatever is done is done in a way that respects our friends and our partners," he added.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said his country needs more than explanations for the recent disclosures of surveillance of emails and telephone conversations of Brazilians by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

"We need to stop practices that violate the sovereignty (of nations), relations of trust between states and individual liberties," Patriota said at a news conference after meeting with Kerry.

"Today we face a new type of challenge in our relations, a challenge related to the news of interception of the electronic and telephone communications of Brazilians," Patriota said.

"If this challenge is not resolved satisfactorily, we run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust on our work," he said.

Kerry's first official visit to South America as secretary of state is taking place under the cloud of revelations about U.S. global surveillance programs made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted a year's asylum by Russia on August 1.

The spying has sparked particular concern in Latin American countries, many of which have long complained about U.S. infringements on their sovereignty. Brazil has been particularly vocal in its complaints.

Kerry was in the Brazilian capital to prepare for a state visit by President Dilma Rousseff to the White House in October that underscores the importance the United States gives to its ties with Brazil.

PROTECTING BRAZILIANS

Kerry said the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type collected by all nations to protect their citizens, and U.S. intelligence has helped protect not just Americans but the populations of other countries, including Brazil.

Last month, the Brazilian newspaper O Globo published documents leaked by Snowden that showed that the NSA targeted Latin American countries with spying programs that can monitor billions of emails and phone calls for suspicious activity.

In Brazil, angry senators questioned the state visit that Rousseff plans to make to Washington on October 23, and the possible multibillion-dollar purchase of fighter jets from the United States.

The F/A-18 fighter jet made by Boeing Co had been favored to beat out French and Swedish warplane makers for the coveted contract, but a Brazilian official told Reuters that Brazil would not discuss the deal with the United States due to the distrust caused by the spying disclosures.

The surveillance controversy set off by Snowden has roiled relations between the United States and Brazil just as they seemed to be improving under Rousseff, a pragmatic leftist.

Relations between chilled under her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who drew Brazil closer to Latin America's leftist governments and to Iran.

The United States was the largest foreign investor in Brazil last year, with total accumulated investments of $100 billion. Two-way trade has increased 11 percent in the past five years to $59 billion a year.

Brazilian officials believe relations between the two countries are strong enough to put the spying matter behind them, though they want a better explanation than they have received so far from Washington on the extent of U.S. surveillance of Brazil's communications.

"Things are settling. It's something we just need to talk through," said a senior U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The O Globo report based on Snowden's leaks "really set things off" because it played to elements in Brazil that are not pro-American, but most of Brazil's government and people are, the official said.

(Additional reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by Will Dunham)

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