Failure to reach a U.S.-German “no spy” accord in response to reports Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was tapped would be “unacceptable” and risks harming ties between both allies, a top German official said.
Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary caucus leader for Germany’s ruling Social Democrats, responded to a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper today that German intelligence officials had received no solid commitments from American counterparts and that prospects for a pact had dwindled.
“A collapse of the agreement would be unacceptable,” Oppermann, who was chairman of a parliamentary panel overseeing intelligence, said in an e-mailed statement. A failure “would alter the political character of relations with the U.S.”
A rift between the U.S. and Germany opened last October following reports that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel’s phone, culminating in the German leader citing a breach of trust with President Barack Obama’s administration.
Merkel dispatched a team to the White House at the end of October to “rebuild trust” after the mobile-phone tapping revelation prompted a phone call to Obama on Oct. 23 in which the chancellor vented her criticism. The German lower house of parliament started an investigation into U.S. mass surveillance.
Talks by U.S. and German officials are continuing and have yielded “a better understanding of the requirements and concerns that exist on both sides,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in an e-mailed statement.
A chancellery spokeswoman in Berlin, who asked not to be identified, also said negotiations were continuing. She declined to comment on to the Sueddeutsche report.
Unidentified negotiators with Germany’s foreign-intelligence agency, the BND, told Sueddeutsche that they’d received no solid commitments from the U.S. side, such as a promise not to spy on members of the government. They’ve also not been told when the NSA began collecting signal intelligence on Merkel’s phone or whether other officials had been hacked.
BND President Gerhard Schindler said Germany should refuse to enter an agreement rather than sign a watered-down version, according to the newspaper. The rigidity of U.S. officials belies initial pledges to cooperate, it said.
Oppermann’s criticism was echoed by other German legislators allied to Merkel. Michael Grosse-Broemer, the parliamentary whip for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said “we would be very disappointed” should talks fail.
“We have to assume that among friends you don’t expect to be spied on or listened to,” Grosse-Broemer told reporters.
“I can only hope that the U.S.’s resistance to this point now isn’t the last word,” Wolfgang Bosbach, the CDU chairman of the interior-affairs committee, said in a statement.
Obama telephoned Merkel Jan. 8 to wish her a quick recovery from a pelvic fracture she sustained in a skiing accident last month. He invited the chancellor to the White House “at a mutually agreeable time in the coming months.”
Obama plans to call for tighter limits on U.S. spying on foreign leaders, an administration official familiar with the proposal said on Jan. 9. The restrictions aim to curb NSA spying without sacrificing its ability to use electronic intelligence gathering to fight terrorism, the official said.
The U.S. leader will unveil the new restrictions on Jan. 17.