U.S. President Barack Obama emerged from his two-day visit to Brazil with a substantial agenda going forward. On the tangible side, Obama and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff announced ten new cooperation agreements--including deals on energy, science and technology, space, nuclear port security, and infrastructure development. A number of bilateral cabinet-level meetings took place as well.
The visit was also notable for the symbolic elements as the leaders of the two largest countries in the hemisphere--one African-American, the other a woman--hit a number of refreshing notes about a new period of bilateral relations. Obama and Rousseff talked at length about what they want to do together and framed potential disagreements as both natural and manageable. The tone they set marked a significant departure from the ideological notes of recent years.
Throughout the trip, Obama lauded Brazil for having accomplished so much--thirty million new members of the middle class, economic growth, environmental policies to match, a role in human development, peace and security beyond its borders--all in less than a generation, and in a democratic context. In office since January, Rousseff has signaled early on her clarity about the global relationships Brazil will need, and need to manage, to advance her sizable domestic agenda. The visit by Obama precedes her own important trip to China, Brazil's largest trading partner, next month. She will visit Washington and New York in September.
In her opening statement on Saturday, Rousseff made clear a longstanding Brazilian foreign policy principle: that Brazil's expectation of working with the United States "as equals" extended not only to the bilateral accords. Working multilaterally remains the sine qua non for a more peaceful and just world order. But Obama stopped short of endorsing a permanent seat for Brazil on the UN Security Council. He indicated instead his "appreciation" of the rationale for Brazil's objective to gain that seat and a commitment to working together on reform of the global order.
Last week's vote by the UN Security Council to authorize and enforce a "no-fly zone" over Libya, a vote on which Brazil abstained, provided insight into the new relationship. Developments at the UN, disagreement on the no-fly zone and agreement on a Human Rights Council vote suspending Libya's membership from the council allowed the two presidents to demonstrate that the two largest economies and democracies of the Americas needn't allow the absence of complete alignment on foreign policy issues to taint a substantial bilateral, regional, and global agenda.
Obama's Brazil visit managed to highlight the potential for greatly expanded ties; it included stops in Brasilia and Rio; toasts; speeches to the press, business, labor, and a host of notables; a walk-around in a favela; and Obama's wife, Michelle, and two daughters carrying out an agenda focused on education and culture. Brazilians followed the visit closely--but with the U.S. media split-screened between Benghazi and Brasilia (or Rio), the president's visit is just the first step in getting Brazil on the radar of the American people.
*Julia Sweig is director of CFR's Global Brazil Initiative.