President Obama got a rude welcome to the 68th U.N. General Assembly gathering Tuesday before he even opened his mouth when the president of Brazil harshly criticized the United States for widespread spying.
While Mr. Obama was waiting in the wings to address the assembly, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff blasted the U.S. for “meddling” in her nation’s business through surveillance by the National Security Agency.
“Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations,” Ms. Rousseff told the assembly angrily. “Such actions are totally unacceptable.”
She said the U.S. was showing “disrespect to our sovereignty.”
Historically, the U.S. has sometimes served as a punching bag at the U.N., but rarely at the hands of a friendly nation. The Brazilian leader’s comments echoed criticism from other allies over U.S. spying, particularly in Europe.
The rough treatment for Mr. Obama extended his foreign policy troubles resulting from the case of fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed classified surveillance secrets this spring and was granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Mr. Snowden revealed that the U.S. had monitored the Brazilian president’s phone calls and text messages, and had spied on Brazilian embassies and the state oil corporation, Petrobras.
Mr. Obama, who spoke immediately after Ms. Rousseff, didn’t address her complaints directly but said the U.S. is “shifting away from a perpetual war footing.”
“Just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” he said.
Ms. Rousseff already had delivered an unprecedented snub to Mr. Obama by postponing a state visit to Washington and a White House dinner in her honor that was scheduled for Oct. 23. She said the Obama administration had not sufficiently explained the reasons for spying on her government and other Brazilian institutions.
“Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately,” Ms. Rousseff said. “Corporate information — often of high economic and even strategic value — was at the center of espionage activity.”
She added that “Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the permanent mission to the U.N. and the office of the president of the republic itself, had their communications intercepted.”
Mr. Obama has said that the U.S. will review its practices and that the surveillance is often essential to preventing terrorist attacks. Ms. Rousseff scoffed at that reasoning with respect to her own country.
“The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained,” Ms. Rousseff said. “Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbor terrorist groups. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.”
The leftist Brazilian leader was imprisoned and tortured in the 1970s as an opponent of her country’s military dictatorship.