Brazil revs up World Cup diplomatic machine

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will go into diplomatic overdrive as the World Cup kicks off on Thursday, June 10, 2014, with meetings planned with two dozen leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as Brazil soaks up the global spotlight.

Despite affording less time to the international arena than her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Ms Rousseff has a chance during the Cup to strut the diplomatic stage on home turf.

"Foreign policy during the Cup will be important, because of the large number of visitors at a time when Brazil's international agenda is full of pressing issues," University of Brasilia professor emeritus David Fleischer told AFP.

One of the most anticipated meetings is with US Vice-President Joe Biden.

The high-level US visit is seen as a chance to smooth relations between the two countries after a row erupted over revelations Washington had been secretly monitoring government communications, including those of Ms Rousseff.

The Brazil leader told foreign correspondents at a dinner last week there was a chance she would reschedule the state visit to Washington that she cancelled in October over the surveillance row.

However, she said she was still waiting for a "clear signal" the United States would desist in future from eavesdropping on Brasilia.

Mr Biden will attend the United States' opening World Cup match on June 16 in Natal against Ghana, and then meet with Ms Rousseff in Brasilia the following day.

Ms Rousseff will host a dinner for Dr Merkel on Sunday in Brasilia, a day before the German leader watches her country take on Portugal in the northern city of Salvador, Ms Rousseff's office told AFP.

Brazil and Germany joined forces following the US spying revelations to sponsor a UN resolution to limit cybersnooping.

Meanwhile, Ms Rousseff is looking to push a free trade agreement between the Latin American Mercosur bloc and the European Union.

Seeing a chance to push the diplomatic offensive, Brazil has arranged its hosting of a summit of the Brics developing giants - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - for July 15, two days after the World Cup final.

Mr Putin, whose country will host the 2018 World Cup, has already confirmed his attendance at the final and at the summit, while his fellow Brics leaders will be in the north-eastern city of Fortaleza for the summit, if not necessarily in Rio for the match.

On July 16, the Brics attendees will then transfer to Brasilia for top level talks with South American leaders.

And a day later, Chinese President - and football fan - Xi Jinping will make a state visit to Brasilia, during which he will also launch a China-Latin America forum.

China has become Brazil's largest trading partner and the second largest for the majority of Brazil's neighbours.

"China entered the Latin American arena by taking advantage of the United States forgetting about it during the Bush administration. China moved into fill the vacuum," Prof Fleischer said.

The Cup opening will also see visits by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the emir of Qatar and the presidents of Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Suriname, Ghana, Angola and Gabon.

Cementing links with a stream of high level visitors will give Brazil an opportunity to bolster its international influence, says professor Alberto Pfeiffer of Sao Paulo University's Institute of International Relations.

"Being awarded the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics was a gamble and a vote of confidence in Brazil," according to Prof Pfeiffer.

"Now there are great expectations regarding how it will perform," said Prof Pfeiffer, referring to the welter of criticism directed at the host nation for late delivery of Cup facilities as well as the street protests over the US$11 billion (S$13.7 billion) cost of the competition.