The United States and Brazil signed a defense cooperation agreement on Monday that officials and analysts say marks not only a new stage in relations between the two countries, but also a step in Brazil's emergence onto the world stage.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates said the agreement is the culmination of a series of improvements in U.S.-Brazil defense relations in recent years.
"The agreement is a formal acknowledgment of the many security interests and values we share as the two most populous democracies in the Americas," he said.
Gates said those interests include strengthening democracies around the world, promoting economic growth, fighting poverty, and contributing to international security and stability. He said the agreement will increase cooperation on military research and development, information exchange and joint training and exercises.
"These common interests make Brazil's growing involvement and significance in global affairs a welcome development to the United States," he said.
The secretary cited Brazil's leadership of the United Nations mission in Haiti and its efforts in the wake of the recent earthquake there. He also said the agreement will result in cooperation in the procurement of military equipment. Brazil is in the final stages of deciding whether to buy a U.S.-made fighter jet for its Air Force, a process that Brazil's Defense Minister Nelson Azevedo Jobim said he intends to finish with a proposal to be sent to Brazil's president by next month.
But Jobim also said that Monday's agreement reflects the need for more Brazilian-American cooperation on broad security issues, beyond the strictly military relationship he said existed in the past.
The minister said the relationship can now move forward based on trust and without reservations.
The former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, who is now at the American Enterprise Institute research organization, says the agreement represents a "maturation" of the U.S.-Brazil relationship, and a recognition by Brazil that it needs to do more to assert itself internationally.
"Brazil, within the last several years, is modernizing its outlook and its strategic planning," Noriega said. "I think they understand that after decades of sort of inward looking policies, that as they emerge as certainly a regional leader, and more and more a country with global ambitions and a global projection, that it's natural that they would want to modernize their relationship with the United States."
Noriega calls the agreement "healthy and helpful," and says it will provide a basis for the two countries to consult and share information on tactical and strategic issues.
At the Brookings Institution, senior fellow and former Colombian government minister Mauricio Cardenas says the agreement represents a "new type of collaboration" between the United States and Brazil, after disagreements over the U.S.-Colombia defense accord and Brazil's relatively lenient position toward Iran.
"There is increasing awareness on the part of Brazil that the relationship with the U.S. needs more attention, especially in light of the aspiration of Brazil to become a permanent member of the Security Council of the U.N.," Cardenas said.
Cardenas predicts there will be more bilateral engagement on more issues as a result of this agreement, and more Brazilian cooperation in the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The signing of the bilateral defense agreement came as Secretary Gates prepares to travel to Latin America this week. He was to visit Brazil to sign the accord, but Minister Jobim came to Washington to participate in the nuclear summit being hosted by President Barack Obama. Gates will still visit Colombia and Peru, and will attend a Caribbean regional security summit in Barbados.