US President Barack Obama's trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador beginning this week is still on, despite fears of a nuclear disaster in Japan and turmoil in the Middle East, officials said on Wednesday.
Obviously, the trip is on. The president will be going to Latin America White House spokesman Jay Carney said, ahead of Obama's departure for Brazil Friday on a visit billed as advancing major goals of US foreign policy.
Carney stressed that the trip to Latin America formed a key part of Obama's top political priority: reviving the US economy.
You have to remember that economic growth in the United States is the president's top priority. This trip is very focused on economic opportunities for the United States and the trade relationship.
The president and his family are scheduled to travel to Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and San Salvador on the trip, designed to highlight economic and trade issues and energy and security cooperation.
White House officials are billing the visit as primarily an effort to drum up export markets and future opportunity for US businesses as they seek to emerge from the worst financial crisis in decades.
There has been tremendous progress in this region economically over the last decade or so, said Mike Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs. It is playing an increasingly important role in our economic well-being.
This trip fundamentally is about the US recovery, US exports, and the critical relationship that Latin America plays in our economic future and jobs here in the United States.
Preparations have been underway for months. In February, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner visited economic powerhouse Brazil, the largest country on the continent and the world's 7th-largest economy.
After talks in Washington with Brazil's foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previewed some of the Obama agenda.
We are cooperating closely and our bilateral work on issues and global challenges, including food security and human rights, and clean energy and global inequality, is key to both of us and we will explore even additional ways to pursue our common interests and our common values,” she said.
Themes in all three countries include the consolidation of democracy, open and accountable government, civil rights, gender equality, and social inclusion.
In Rio de Janeiro, President Obama will address the people of Brazil. He is also expected to visit a favela, one of the squatter slums Brazil's government has been trying to wrest from the control of criminal and drug gangs.
School of International Service Dean Louis Goodman, of the The American University in Washington says the first African-American president of the United States should be able to deliver an effective message to Latin American countries still struggling with a past marked by social inequalities.
Brazil historically has been one of most uneven countries in the world and while it is making progress, it is less uneven today in 2011 than it was in 2009 for example, it still has a way to go. And while Chile has made social progress it also has a way to go” he said.
Mr. Obama's discussions with President Dilma Rousseff and US and Brazilian business executives will focus on areas of opportunity in renewable and sustainable energy, science and technology, education and innovation, also key priorities for Mr. Obama in the U.S. economic recovery.
Major oil and natural gas finds in Brazil are also of interest to the United States, something Mr. Obama mentioned in a recent news conference about rising energy prices.
“When it comes to imported oil, we are strengthening our key energy relationships with other producer nations, something that I will discuss with President Rousseff when I visit next week, he said.
Brazil's ambassador in Washington, Mauricio Vieira, says his government seeks more balance” in bilateral trade, and mentions differences on global-trade issues. But he says the important thing is that both sides continue talking.
“We discuss all issues, those [on] which we agree, and even those in which we do not agree completely, but the important thing is not agreeing always, the important thing is to discuss, to have an open dialogue and to find ways to have a consensus on a very wide agenda” he said.