Europe

European leaders call for talks to settle US spy row

  • 25 October 2013
  • From the section Europe
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France and Germany want to hold talks with the US by the end of the year to settle a row over spying, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

It follows claims that her mobile phone and millions of French calls have been monitored by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Mrs Merkel said once seeds of mistrust had been sown, it made co-operation on intelligence more difficult.

The row over alleged spying continues to overshadow an EU summit in Brussels.

On Thursday, the UK's Guardian newspaper reported that it had obtained a confidential memo from the NSA suggesting it had monitored the phones of 35 world leaders.

'We want the truth'

Speaking at the end of the first day of the talks on Thursday, Mrs Merkel said France and Germany wanted to "create a framework" with the US on surveillance.

She stressed that she wanted to look for a basis to move forward with Washington, and that she was looking for deeds, not just apologetic words.

Image caption Herman Van Rompuy said other EU countries could join France and Germany in talks with the US

"It's become clear that for the future, something must change - and significantly," Mrs Merkel said.

"We will put all efforts into forging a joint understanding by the end of the year for the co-operation of the (intelligence) agencies between Germany and the US, and France and the US, to create a framework for the co-operation."

At a separate news conference, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said EU leaders "took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks with the US".

Other countries would be "free to join this initiative," he said.

Mr Van Rompuy said intelligence-gathering was a vital weapon against terrorism but it would be prejudiced by "a lack of trust".

Other leaders expressed anger at the spying allegations.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said it was "completely unacceptable" to eavesdrop on the leader of an ally, a view echoed by Italian PM Enrico Letta, who added: "We want the truth."

Mrs Merkel has demanded a "complete explanation" of the phone-tapping claims, which emerged in the German media.

But the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says that, despite the widespread anger about American spying, Mrs Merkel opposed a suggestion to suspend trade talks with the United States - and on that point, the UK will be relieved.

Mrs Merkel had raised her concerns with US President Barack Obama in a call on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Jay Carney later said Mr Obama had assured Mrs Merkel that her phone was not being listened to now and would not be in the future.

However, his statement left open the question of whether calls had been listened to in the past.

French President Francois Hollande has also expressed alarm at reports that French phone calls had been monitored.

Italy's weekly L'Espresso has reported that the US and UK have been spying on Italian internet and phone traffic.

The revelations were sourced to US whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is alleged that the NSA and UK spy centre GCHQ eavesdropped on three undersea cables with terminals in Italy.

The Guardian said the NSA memo suggesting it had monitored the phones of 35 world leaders was also sourced to Edward Snowden. The numbers were reportedly supplied by a US government official.

None of the leaders was named, but the memo said "little reportable intelligence'' was obtained.

In another development, two Western diplomats have revealed that US officials briefed them on documents obtained by Edward Snowden that could detail intelligence co-operation between their countries, the AP news agency reported.

The Washington Post earlier reported that some intelligence operations revealed in the documents involve countries not publicly allied to the US.

The Post said that in some cases, one part of the co-operating government may know about the collaboration while others - such as the foreign ministry - may not.

'Please help us'

The EU leaders are now arriving for Friday's summit talks.

They are scheduled to discuss the dilemma posed by migration, which has been brought into sharp focus by the deaths of hundreds of people who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in recent weeks.

Maria Nicolini, the mayor of Lampedusa, the Italian island where many of the bodies have been brought ashore, was in Brussels on Thursday. She implored EU leaders to help relieve the misery of the migrants and the pressure on the Mediterranean islands.

"Please help us and do not disappoint us," she said.

The European Commission has called for EU countries to offer "additional and urgent contributions" to prevent further tragedies at sea.

The Commission is pressing for:

  • Greater resources to survey and patrol sea routes, through its Frontex operation
  • Increased co-operation with countries of origin and transit, especially Libya
  • The opening of more channels of regular migration
  • Moves to spread migrants more evenly across the EU

However, national governments point out there are significant obstacles to some of these ambitions - including the lack of a proficient government in Libya.

National leaders are also aware that there is little appetite among their voters to open the doors to more immigrants.

EU sources say the leaders are likely to promise improved co-operation, but not more money or resources. They say they first want to see a new surveillance effort, Eurosur, come into force, to see what effect that has.

The leaders will also discuss relations with Central and European countries, ahead of a November summit at which new agreements will be signed.

The deal with Ukraine is still up in the air, with the EU protesting at the detention of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.