Germany and the U.S. need to have a “serious” discussion about their dispute over the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance before the two allies move on, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
On a two-day trip to Washington, Steinmeier told his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that the two countries have differing views on the relationship between security, freedom and privacy. Earlier this week, Steinmeier dismissed a “no-spy treaty” that German negotiators are struggling to establish with U.S. intelligence officials.
“We just have to take seriously that on this question we perhaps have a different assessment,” Steinmeier told reporters after talks with Kerry yesterday. “There’s no use just going into negotiations on a treaty. We first have to become conscious of the differences.”
The top German envoy arrived as officials in Berlin grow frustrated at the pace of talks since revelations last year that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was caught in the dragnet of U.S. signals intelligence. Merkel’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations said this month that Germany’s push for a no-spy accord was headed for failure amid resistance from President Barack Obama’s administration.
Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, intercepted and stored images of millions of Yahoo Inc. webcam-chat users in a program code-named Optic Nerve, the Guardian newspaper reported today, citing documents provided by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
“This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable,” Yahoo spokeswoman Verena Knaak said in an e-mailed statement.
Steinmeier, on his first visit to the U.S. since returning to his post as German foreign minister in December, was scheduled to have dinner with Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate intelligence committee and a defender of the NSA’s activities since disclosures of top-secret surveillance programs last year by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the spy agency.
The foreign minister also is scheduled to meet today with Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, and White House adviser John Podesta.
Merkel’s government has made the no-spy treaty with the U.S. a central demand in healing the rift between the two allies after she and members of her coalition expressed outrage at NSA activity. Obama rebuffed the notion, saying this month that the U.S. has never signed a no-spy treaty.
Kerry sought to reassure the German minister that the disagreement could be resolved.
“Germany does not have an antagonist here,” the top U.S. diplomat said. “We’re not adversarial. We believe there is a balance, and we’re determined to try to get at that by way of a reasonable and thoughtful discussion.”
Obama was asked about spying accords with U.S. allies such as the U.K. during French President Francois Hollande’s visit to Washington this month.
“That’s not actually what happens,” Obama told reporters. “There’s no country where we have a no-spy agreement.”
Philipp Missfelder, a lawmaker in Merkel’s party who coordinates relations with the U.S., told reporters Feb. 13 that after he’d spoken with American officials, he was convinced the spy treaty “doesn’t have a great chance.”
“The Americans have no interest in giving up their sovereignty in this area,” he said.