Germany Rules Out Asylum for Snowden Amid Spy Inquiry

The German government ruled out granting asylum to Edward Snowden as a top aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed optimism that Germany and the U.S. can rebuild trust after a fallout over spying.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said there’s no basis for asylum in Germany for the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor because he’s not a victim of political persecution. German authorities will instead seek ways to take testimony from Snowden in Moscow as part of a probe of NSA activity.

Ronald Pofalla, Merkel’s chief of staff, said President Barack Obama will present a new intelligence-cooperation framework between the U.S. and Germany in mid-December.

“This way I think we will be able to win back the trust that’s been lost,” Pofalla told reporters in Berlin today after a meeting of a parliamentary committee that oversees intelligence matters.

The overture is aimed at helping mend a rift that opened following revelations last month that the NSA may have tapped Merkel’s mobile phone. Even as lawmakers prepare to call a parliamentary investigation of mass U.S. surveillance, Merkel’s government has made clear this week it won’t risk a break with the U.S.

“Hardly any other country has profited so much from the trans-Atlantic relationship as Germany has,” chief government spokesman Steffen Seibert said today in Berlin.

Moscow Meeting

Snowden offered to testify to German authorities as part of any probe, according to Greens party lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, who met with the fugitive in Moscow on Oct. 31. Stroebele, the most senior member of the oversight committee, disputed Friedrich’s objection to an asylum status.

“Obviously this can be done, one only needs to want it,” Stroebele said. The Greens veteran last week presented a letter attributed to Snowden in which he accused the U.S. government of “systemic” crimes and offered to give testimony in Germany if he could remain in the country safely.

Snowden, wanted on espionage charges in the U.S. for disclosing top-secret NSA surveillance programs, is residing at an undisclosed location in Russia under a one-year visa. His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, has said he would forfeit his refugee status if he left Russian soil.

Sarah Harrison, an adviser for the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks who accompanied Snowden from Hong Kong and remained with him in Russia, traveled to Berlin over the weekend after concluding that the fugitive was safe.

’Violation of International Law’

“Whilst Edward Snowden is safe and protected until his asylum visa is due to be renewed in nine months’ time, there is still much work to be done,” Harrison said in a statement posted on WikiLeaks’s Twitter account. Legal advisers warned her not to return to her native U.K., Harrison said.

The chairman of the oversight board in Germany’s lower house, Social Democrat Thomas Oppermann, said the 11-member panel discussed gathering testimony from Snowden as long as it didn’t “bring him into difficulty.” He also said the panel wants access to the NSA documents disclosed by Snowden.

Merkel dispatched a team of intelligence officials last week to the White House 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 reverberations in Berlin over surveillance spread yesterday, when German diplomats called in the British ambassador following a report that its embassy housed a listening post to monitor German government communications.

Germany’s top European-affairs diplomat “made clear that listening to communications from the premises of a diplomatic mission would be considered an activity in violation of international law,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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