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Saturday, 29 March 2014 | MYT 3:40 AM

Exclusive - Biden to meet Rousseff as Brazil-U.S. ties begin to thaw

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden plans to meet with Brazil's leader when he attends the World Cup in June, an official with knowledge of the visit told Reuters, a sign that relations between the two countries are thawing after a fight over National Security Agency spying last year.

The meeting with President Dilma Rousseff is slated to take place in Brasilia, the capital, likely after Biden attends a still-undetermined game in the global football tournament, the official said on condition of anonymity.

A White House official declined to comment. A spokesman for Rousseff did not respond to a request for comment.

It would be the highest-level formal encounter between the two governments since Rousseff cancelled a White House visit planned for last October out of anger at revelations that the NSA spied on her and other Brazilians.

Relations since then have been tense, with negative economic fallout for both countries.

Rousseff in December chose Sweden's Saab over Chicago-based Boeing Co. for a multi-billion dollar Air Force jets contract, in what her aides said was a direct snub to Washington over the spying.

Meanwhile, talks over bilateral trade and investment deals have mostly been on ice since the confrontation, depriving Brazil of a potential motor for its sputtering economy.

Rousseff and her aides have continued to demand a formal apology from the United States for spying on her as a condition for normalizing the relationship. Washington has so far refused.

A visit by Biden, who has cultivated a particularly warm relationship during previous meetings with the left-leaning Brazilian leader, will not heal the rift by itself. Rousseff remains deeply upset by the controversy, Brazilian officials have told Reuters.

But diplomats on both sides were surprised by the warm tone when the two leaders spoke on the sidelines of the Chilean president's inauguration earlier this month.

Rousseff asked Biden for help in defusing a political crisis in Venezuela, two officials with knowledge of the conversation told Reuters. Biden then said he hoped to formally visit Rousseff while in Brazil for the World Cup, to which she responded favourably, the officials said.

Other recent constructive signs have included new Trade Minister Mauro Borges inviting U.S. officials for a meeting in Brasilia at which he expressed enthusiasm for restarting trade talks, according to an official present.

Routine cooperation between the countries' armed forces, which had been frozen for a time following the NSA controversy, has also resumed.

Stronger diplomatic and trade ties could over time pay major dividends for U.S. companies, since Brazil's $2.3 trillion economy is at present one of the Americas' most closed to trade. Prior to the NSA revelations, Brazilian and U.S. officials said the relationship was at its best in a decade.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; editing by Andrew Hay)


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