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Brazil's feud with U.S. on spying raises tensions at U.N.

UNITED NATIONS — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used her role as the first speaker at the United Nations General Assembly to call alleged U.S. spying on her government and citizens an “affront” to Brazil’s sovereignty.

“Never can the sovereignty of one country suffer under the sovereignty of another country,” Rousseff, 65, said Tuesday. “Never can the rights to security of the citizens of one country be guaranteed by violating the fundamental human rights of the citizens of another country.”

Rousseff spoke immediately before U.S. President Barack Obama and one week after she called off a state visit to Washington — which would have been the first for a Brazilian head of state since 1995. The cancellation stemmed from espionage allegations based on documents from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

As the possibility of a greeting between Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dominates news about the opening of the General Assembly session, tensions with Brazil over alleged NSA spying are among other challenges including Syria confronting Obama and the United States as world leaders gather in New York.

“There’s this huge question of Syria and the murder of 120,000 people,” said David Schenker, the director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “That’s been overshadowed by the Rohani love fest.”

Revelations about NSA surveillance against both Brazil and Mexico, Latin America’s biggest economies, have chilled relations and may prompt a U.S. response, said Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy group.

“These are obviously countries that are influential,” Meacham said in a telephone interview. “A lot of people think the president may actually address some of these concerns” by speaking with Rousseff, or by having Secretary of State John Kerry meet with his Brazilian counterpart.

The U.S. also has yet to say whether it will grant a visa for travel to the U.N. gathering by Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir. The International Criminal Court is seeking Bashir’s arrest and trial on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

Beyond negotiations with Russia on plans to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and convene peace talks, progress on resolving the Syrian civil war, at this point, requires addressing discontent by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies that back the opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Schenker said.

“The Gulf is apoplectic with the U.S. policy on Syria,” he said. “I don’t know how much of it we’re going to see, but there will be side meetings.”

Stumbling blocks with Russia persist over whether a U.N. resolution should include a provision allowing the use of force to ensure resolutions are followed, said a U.S. State Department official who asked to not be identified citing policy.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry are scheduled to meet today and U.S. officials said they will wait to see what gaps remain after their discussion. Later this week, Kerry is to meet again with Lavrov, U.N. special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, and representatives of other countries that support the Syrian opposition.

The absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in New York means there will be “fewer opportunities for leaders to put pressure on Russia and China over their behavior over Syria,” Richard Gowan, associate director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said yesterday by e-mail.

“Leaders will doubtless make many emotional promises to increase humanitarian assistance to suffering Syrians, but experience shows that these high-profile pledges often go unfulfilled,” Gowan added.

More than 100,000 people have died since the turmoil in Syria broke out in March 2011, with millions displaced internally and spilling into neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, threatening their economic stability, according to UN data. UN organizations have appealed for more financial support, saying they have received only 40 percent of the $4.4 billion they need to help the Syrian people.

With assistance from Bill Faries in Miami.

© 2013, Bloomberg News

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