Europe

President Obama tells Hollande US no longer spying on France

  • 24 June 2015
  • From the section Europe
US President Barack Obama (R) and French President Francois Hollande take part in a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G7 Summit on 8 June Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Hollande and President Obama spoke by phone after the allegations emerged

President Obama has assured his French counterpart Francois Hollande that the US is no longer spying on France.

Mr Obama spoke to Mr Hollande following reports on the Wikileaks website that the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on successive French presidents.

The White House said after the two leaders' phone call "we are not targeting and will not target" Mr Hollande's communications.

French intelligence officials are due to travel to Washington for more talks.

Wikileaks reported that the NSA had intercepted communications from President Francois Hollande and former leaders Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac between 2006-12.

The allegations prompted a backlash from the French government, with Mr Hollande saying he would "not tolerate" acts that threaten France's security.

He called two emergency meetings, the first with France's top security officials and another with leading legislators.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged the US to quickly repair "damage" to its relationship with France.

The US Ambassador Jane Hartley was also summoned to the foreign ministry in Paris to discuss the latest claims, French officials said.


Analysis: Hugh Schofield, BBC News, Paris

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Documents released by Wikileaks indicate that the US spied on Jacques Chirac (L), Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande (R)

Politicians and other leading figures are taking turns on television to express outrage at US spying.

The US ambassador was summoned to give explanations.

Mr Hollande has telephoned Mr Obama.

An intelligence chief is being despatched to Washington.

If that is the extent of it, though, it hardly amounts to a major rupture. From previous Wikileaks scoops, the French have known for years that they are spied on by the Americans. Only last month it was revealed that the Germans - acting on behalf of the NSA - were snooping after industrial secrets.

The unwritten rule in all of this is that if you are caught, expect a very public denunciation. But behind the scenes life will go on as normal. The fact is that the French and US intelligence services enjoy a degree of cooperation and interdependence that no government in Paris would ever dream of jeopardising.


The NSA has previously been accused of spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on Brazilian and Mexican leaders.

A statement released by the French presidency after the phone call (in French) said Mr Obama had pledged to "finish with practices that have taken place in the past".

The conversation between Mr Hollande and Mr Obama had focused on "the principles that should govern relations between allies on intelligence matters".

French aware?

Wikileaks began publishing the files on Tuesday, under the heading "Espionnage Elysee" - a reference to the French presidential palace.

It said the secret files "derive from directly targeted NSA surveillance of the communications" of the three French presidents as well as French ministers and the ambassador to the US.

The Wikileaks files have now been published by France's Liberation newspaper and the Mediapart investigative website.

Image copyright NSA
Image caption The NSA has come under increased scrutiny since revelations by former employee Edward Snowden

One of the files, dated 2012, is about Mr Hollande discussing Greece's possible exit from the eurozone. Another one - from 2011 - alleges that Mr Sarkozy was determined to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, possibly without US involvement.

A file dated 2010 suggests that French officials were aware that the US was spying on them and intended to complain about it.

According to the summary of an intercepted exchange, the French envoy to Washington and Mr Sarkozy's diplomatic adviser discussed Mr Sarkozy's plan to express his "frustration" over US unwillingness to sign a "bilateral intelligence co-operation agreement".

"The main sticking point is the US desire to continue spying on France," the intercept says.

It is unclear whether the material comes from data stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera says.


French media reaction

"Bugged", left-leaning Liberation says bluntly, devoting its entire front page to the story. "The USA tapped Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande", says the centre-right Le Figaro, while the centrist Le Monde headline is: "How the NSA tapped conversations at the highest state level."

A Liberation editorial entitled "Distrust" acknowledges that both Washington and Paris spy on allies and enemies but says the "US obsession with political commentary and 'horizon scanning' analysis … is a monumental waste of time and money."

Le Figaro also takes Washington to task for "obsessive US spying on France" adding that not just three presidents but ministers, high-ranking officials, MPs and diplomats may also have been spied on.

Le Monde notes that while the government has remained largely silent in the past, the latest revelation is "the last straw". It says Paris asked Washington to stop spying in 2013 when Wikileaks revealed that the US was spying on French companies - but did not get a concrete answer.


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