Friday, October 25, 2013

EU: Distrust over US spying could weaken 'fight against terrorism'

European leaders said Friday that distrust of the United States over its reported spying on its allies could weaken the international "fight against terrorism," after new leaks revealed that Washington has routinely monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders.

Allegations of spying overshadowed proceedings at a European Union summit in Brussels — a meeting that was supposed to focus on Europe's growing refugee crisis. 

"(European leaders) stressed that intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism," said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council. "This applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the USA."

"A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering," he said. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, talks with Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt, center, and
 British Prime Minister David Cameron at a European Council meeting Friday at E.U. headquarters in Brussels.
After summit talks Thursday that lasted past midnight, Van Rompuy announced that France and Germany were seeking bilateral talks with the U.S. by the year's end to resolve the dispute over electronic spying by "secret services."

"What is at stake is preserving our relations with the United States," French President Francois Hollande told reporters at his own early-morning news conference. "They should not be changed because of what has happened. But trust has to be restored and reinforced."

German officials will travel to the U.S. "shortly" to discuss spying allegations, including whether Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone was monitored by the National Security Agency, German government spokesman Georg Streiter said Friday.

"It's become clear that for the future, something must change — and significantly," Merkel said. "We will put all efforts into forging a joint understanding by the end of the year for the cooperation of the (intelligence) agencies between Germany and the U.S. and France — and the U.S. to create a framework for the cooperation."

The current consternation from European leaders regarding the U.S. spying program stems from ongoing leaks of security documents obtained by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The administration of President Barack Obama believes Snowden has also obtained sensitive material about secret cooperation between the U.S. and allied and nonallied nations, prompting the U.S. to alert foreign intelligence services, The Washington Post reported.

Some of the documents detail data collection programs against countries such as Iran, Russia and China, the U.S. government said, according to the report.

'Completely unacceptable'

U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported on Thursday that it had obtained a confidential memo suggesting the NSA was able to monitor 35 world leaders' communications in 2006.

The memo said the NSA encouraged senior officials at the White House, the Pentagon and other agencies to share their contacts so the spy agency could add foreign leaders' phone numbers to its surveillance systems, the report said.

The Guardian did not identify the targets of the alleged eavesdropping.

Other European leaders arriving for the 28-nation meeting echoed Merkel's displeasure.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called it "completely unacceptable" for a country to eavesdrop on an allied leader, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte calling the spy allegations "exceptionally serious."

"We want the truth," Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta told reporters. "It is not in the least bit conceivable that activity of this type could be acceptable."

Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said, "We need to re-establish with the U.S. a relationship of trust, which has certainly suffered from this."

Germany and Brazil raised their concerns about NSA's global spying programs at the United Nations on Thursday, Foreign Policy reported.

Meeting with other Latin American and European representatives, German and Brazilian diplomats discussed a possible resolution to expand to the online world privacy rights contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, according to the report.

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