In an unusual appearance by a top leader at a nation's World Cup debut, Vice President Joseph Biden is going to support the U.S. team in person Monday in Natal, Brazil. Heads of state and government usually show up in the stands when their team makes the semifinals, not earlier, but Biden is combining sports and politics, as he will later proceed to Brasilia to meet with President Dilma Rousseff.
President Barack Obama again declined to make the trip across the Equator to take in the World Cup this year in Brazil, as he did four years ago when the tournament was held in South Africa. So Biden is travelling there instead, trekking down to the Estadio das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, to take in the match between the United States and Ghana.
The match itself is an exciting occasion, as it offers an opportunity for the Americans to get revenge for their 2006 and 2010 losses against the West African nation. But what takes place off the pitch may end up being far more interesting, as Biden is slated to meet Rousseff in what will be the first bilateral conversations between Brazil and the U.S. since the scandal last fall when it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been spying on leaders of allied nations, including Rousseff. The most prominent of those leaders was German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who was also in Brazil for Germany's World Cup debut on Monday.
The U.S. national team, ranked 13th in the world, may be able to beat the 37th-placed Ghana squad on Monday, but there is not much hope for a huge breakthrough in relations between Brazil and the U.S., which have been chilly since October, when the international spying scandal broke. The brouhaha may have helped push the Brazilian government into choosing a European contender for a multibillion fighter jet order over the American offer from Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA).
“It is unrealistic to expect much substantive progress as a result of Biden’s visit to Brazil,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, told the Christian Science Monitor. “For Rousseff – in the midst of a World Cup tournament, widespread protests, and critical elections coming up – the timing couldn’t be worse.”
But Rousseff , who cancelled a visit to Washington, D.C., after the eavesdropping revelations became known, has given signs that relations with the U.S. are getting more amicable, as she said earlier this month that if the Obama administration offers a "clear signal" that it will cease spying on top Brazilian leaders, she will consider planning a replacement trip to the U.S.
The White House first announced Biden's planned trip in an April statement.