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United States

German officials head to White House to address spying reports

Chancellor Angela Merkel's intelligence and foreign affairs advisors are in Washington to meet with White House officials over reports the US spied on Germany. The controversy has sparked backlash from European leaders.

German delegation in Washington over spy scandal

Merkel's spokesman Steffan Seibert told reporters that the goal of Wednesday's meeting in Washington was to clarify media reports of US spying and to build "a new basis of trust and new regulation for our cooperation in this area."

"We are in a process of intense contact with our US partners on the intelligence and political levels, and this process of contact and investigation will take more time," he said.

Seibert told reporters that Merkel's foreign policy advisor, Christoph Heugsen, and secret service coordinator Günter Heiss were taking part in the White House meeting.

Wednesday's talks come a day after European Union officials traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with National Security Agency (NSA) chief Keith Alexander and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. The heads of Germany's domestic and foreign intelligence agencies will travel to Washington later this week.

Europe-US tension

A number of European countries have voiced their concern after media reports that the NSA has been spying on their citizens and leaders, including intercepting the phone calls and text messages of Merkel. US President Barack Obama told Merkel in a phone call last week the US was not currently eavesdropping on her conversations and had no intention of doing so in the future.

However, Merkel has said that Washington violated US-German trust – a relationship that "has to be built anew." There must be no "spying among friends," she added.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the recent report that more than 60 million telephone calls in his country were picked up by the NSA in a month, if proven to be true, revealed a kind of behavior that was "inappropriate and unacceptable between partners and friends." Madrid's intelligence chief is due to address parliament over the allegations.

In the latest news on a growing list of reported NSA spying targets, Italy's Panorama magazine published a story Wednesday saying that the agency had listened in on Vatican phone calls. The alleged eavesdropping occurred before cardinals elected the new pope in a March conclave.

Doubts over NSA claims

Amidst heightened EU-US tension as a result of the spying reports, NSA chief Keith Alexander attempted to shift blame towards his European allies on Tuesday by calling the media reports that his agency collected millions of citizens' phone calls on the continent "completely false." He claimed the newspapers that reported those stories did not understand the data and that in many cases it was European intelligence agencies collecting the communications information and sharing it with the US.

The reporter largely responsible for breaking the spying stories in a number of newspapers around the world, Glenn Greenwald, was quick to refute Alexander's accusation. In a statement published on his personal blog, he wrote that "not a single one" of the stories he has written about NSA spying "bears even a trivial correction, let alone a substantive one."

"No evidence of any kind (as opposed to unverified NSA accusations) has been presented that this was the case here, and ample evidence strongly suggests it was not," he added.

France also expressed doubt over the allegation European governments were spying on their own citizens and forwarding that information to the NSA.

"The NSA director's denials don't seem likely," government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said following a cabinet meeting.

The French foreign ministry has said it's concerned about the "nature and scale of US wiretapping on our territory."

"Where are intelligence agencies' surveillance activities are concerned, they are strictly framed by the law," spokesman Romain Nadal said.

dr/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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