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EU Seeks Spy Rules With U.S. After Merkel Hacking Charge

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel uses a cell phone during a meeting of the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, in Berlin. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

European leaders condemned the reported U.S. hacking of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and said they will seek trans-Atlantic accords on espionage practices.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande spearheaded calls for closer cooperation among secret services, trying to move past the dismay provoked by this week’s revelations of U.S. eavesdropping in Germany and France.

“A rule of good conduct is that you don’t bug the portable phones of people you meet regularly at international summits,” Hollande told reporters early today after the first session of a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.

At the same time, EU leaders joined the Obama administration in pursuing damage control, rejecting calls from some European politicians for a suspension of trans-Atlantic trade talks that have export-oriented Germany as a prime backer.

Anger among the U.S. allies in Europe was stoked this week by reports in Spiegel magazine that Merkel was a National Security Agency target and in Le Monde that U.S. spies intercepted and recorded 70.3 million pieces of “telecommunications data” in France from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.

Ambassadors Summoned

Germany and France summoned U.S. ambassadors to respond to the allegations, which were based on documents made public by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now living under asylum in Russia.

U.S. officials are warning foreign intelligence agencies that Snowden may have obtained documents detailing their cooperation with the American government, the Washington Post reported on its website. Some of the agencies are in countries that aren’t publicly allied with the U.S., the newspaper reported, citing unidentified U.S. officials.

Merkel went into the EU meeting by denouncing “spying among friends” and came out of it sidestepping the question of whether she sought an apology from President Barack Obama in a call on Oct. 23. “What matters now is looking to the future,” she said. “It’s not a question of good words but of possible changes.”

Germany and France each set an end-of-year deadline to strike “frameworks for cooperation” on intelligence collection with the U.S. A statement signed by all 28 EU government leaders said that other countries might follow suit.

“We have diplomatic relations and channels that we use in order to discuss these issues that have clearly caused some tension in our relationships with other nations around the world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Two Phones

Merkel, now negotiating a coalition accord for her third term as chancellor, said she has two cell phones, one for managing the government’s business, the other for her role as leader of the Christian Democratic Union party.

Separately, the Guardian newspaper reported that a U.S. government official gave the NSA phone numbers of 35 world leaders for tracking. A classified memo leaked by Snowden discloses that the NSA sought telephone numbers from officials at the White House and the defense and state departments, the Guardian reported.

The memo dated October 2006 -- during the administration of President George W. Bush -- didn’t name the world leaders or the U.S. official who provided the numbers, according to the U.K.- based newspaper.

Rule Breaking

“It’s fundamental philosophy not to spy on partners like this, you just don’t,” Hans-Georg Wieck, a former president of Germany’s BND spy agency, said yesterday in a telephone interview from his Berlin home. “Break that rule and you better be ready for the political consequences.”

Carney said the Obama administration is reviewing surveillance policies and repeated that the U.S. “is not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications.” He refused to answer a question about whether the U.S. had spied on Merkel in the past.

Carney said the U.S. doesn’t expect the controversy over surveillance to imperil talks on a trans-Atlantic trade agreement. In Brussels, no EU leader echoed a call by European Parliament President Martin Schulz to suspend the talks.

“There has to be a moment where we interrupt,” Schulz said. “When I go into a negotiation and fear that the other side, a friendly democracy, has conducted espionage to find out what I’ll say in the negotiations, then we’re not at the same level anymore.”

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