Obama pushes F-18 fighter jet in Brazil meeting


President Barack Obama made a strong pitch for the Boeing F-18 jet fighter in a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, but she did not indicate if her government had decided to buy the US-made plane, the White House said on Sunday.

“The F-18 issue did come up. President Rousseff raised it,” White House aide Dan Restrepo told reporters in Rio de Janeiro, referring to the leaders’ bilateral meeting in Brasilia on Saturday that kicked off Obama’s five-day Latin American tour.

Brazil is weighing a multi-billion dollar bid to modernize its air force, and Obama has made promoting exports to boost US jobs back home a central part of his trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, Reuters reports.
“President Obama underscored that the F-18 is the best plane on offer … in that the technology transfer package … is equivalent to the packages that are offered to partners and allies around the world,” said Restrepo, Obama’s top Latin American adviser.

Rousseff told US officials earlier this year that she believes the F-18 is the best jet among three finalists, and that she sees a deal as a way to improve trade ties with the United States. Yet she also asked for written guarantees that Congress will not block transfers of proprietary technology that she wants as part of the deal to help Brazil develop its own defense industry.

Two sources told Reuters that Obama handed Rousseff a joint letter from the Republican and Democrat leaders of the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, saying that Congress would respect any deal on technology transfers.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.

One of the sources added that a similar letter from leadership in the U.S. House is expected within days.

The F-18’s main competition comes from the French Rafale fighter jet of Dassault Aviation, which had been favored by Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Saab is also a bidder and said last month it hoped for a Brazilian decision during 2011.