RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — President Barack Obama is slipping from economic pitchman to grand tourist, immersing himself in the sights and sounds of boisterous Rio de Janeiro even as he juggles the demands of U.S. military action in faraway Libya.
A day after authorizing missile strikes to help enforce an internationally backed no-fly zone over Libya, Obama travels the next leg of his Latin American tour to this vibrant city, where he intends to use his popularity to declare a cultural kinship between the U.S. and Brazil.
The five day Latin American trip — with Chile and El Salvador also on the itinerary — aims to cast Obama and the United States as attentive neighbors from the North, eager to capitalize on the region's economic successes while addressing common security concerns. From the start, however, Obama's attention has been divided. He was forced Saturday to shuttle from meetings with his host, President Dilma Rousseff, and with Brazilian and U.S. executives to briefings and secure calls with his national security team
With the conflict in North Africa sure to continue to intrude, Obama on Sunday will tour the shantytown, City of God, one of more than 1,000 slums that dot the urban hills surrounding the city but also one that has become part of an ambitious "pacification" program aimed at reducing violence in Rio.
He then will deliver a speech, promoted as an address to the Brazilian people, from Cinelandia Plaza, a historic square that was the scene of a 1984 protest that set the stage for the eventual end of a 20-year military dictatorship. He will end his stay with a nighttime walking tour of Corcovado Mountain to the Christ the Redeemer Statue that is the very symbol of Rio.
Rousseff displayed no hint that Obama's multitasking was diluting the impact of his visit. She expressed personal delight that Obama had placed Brazil first in his tour of the region and that he had chosen to visit so early in her administration. She took note that she was the first female president of Brazil, hosting the first African American president.
"And this is even more important and has a greater significance when we remember that the U.S. and Brazil are the two countries that have the largest black population outside Africa," she said.
Indeed, Obama commands significant attention, even affection, in Brazil. In the capital, Brasilia, children greeted Obama with hugs and tears as they waved U.S. and Brazilian flags.
Still, Rousseff also did not hide her frustration at not getting Obama's endorsement for highly sought permanent seat on the United Nation's Security Council. Brazil now holds a rotating seat, and Rousseff's renewed request for a permanent seat came two days after Brazil abstained from voting on the U.S.-backed resolution establishing a no-fly zone over Libya.
The two leaders did sign agreements on trade and economic cooperation, an early step toward a free-trade relationship, and approved a deal for expanded air service between the two countries.
Obama departs Brazil on Sunday and heads for Chile. On Tuesday he goes to El Salvador.
The president is traveling with his wife, Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson.
Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks contributed to this report.
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