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Intelligence

Germany 'astonished' at US spy reports, Kerry addresses the leaks

Germany has said the US must work towards restoring trust, following reports that US intelligence agencies spied on EU institutions. A spokesman said the government learned of the news with "great displeasure."

The comments come following a report on Sunday from Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, which said the US National Security Agency (NSA) had bugged EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels.

Germany responded to the reports with shock on Monday, with the government summoning the US ambassador in Berlin to a meeting. Government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the government learned of the report "with astonishment, better said with great displeasure, which was conveyed to the White House at the weekend."

Seibert said the message from Berlin was that Washington needed to work towards restoring trust. The allegations came to light almost two weeks after a widely-praised visit to Berlin by US President Barack Obama.

"Europe and the United States are partners, our friends, are allies. Trust must be the basis of our cooperation and trust must be restored in this area," Seibert told reporters on Monday.

"This is not the Cold War anymore," he added. Seibert pointed out that "as a basic point, reports are not automatically facts and so we need to get to the bottom of this."

"But if it is true that EU institutions and individual EU countries were spied on then we must say that bugging friends is unacceptable," said Seibert.

The Spiegel magazine report on Saturday said the NSA planted bugs in the EU's diplomatic offices in Washington and took similar measures at the EU's mission to the United Nations in New York. It said the spying also extended to the EU's Brussels headquarters.

Der Spiegel followed up with the report on Sunday, adding that the NSA taps, on average, half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany each month.

It was reportedly citing classified documents taken by American NSA leaker and former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden is currently holed up in a Moscow airport and is seeking asylum in Ecuador. He faces espionage charges back in the United States.

Trade agreement at risk, Kerry comments

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said on Sunday that American authorities had been contacted about the report.

The European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding took a harder stance, warning that the allegations could jeopardize talks on a future trade agreement between the US and the EU, which were formally launched last month.

On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed Ashton had raised concerns during a meeting in Brunei. Kerry promised to look into the allegations further, but said it was "not unusual" to seek information on other countries.

"Lady Ashton did indeed raise it with me today and we agreed to stay in touch. I agreed to find out exactly what the situation is and I will get back to her," Kerry told reporters at the ASEAN regional meeting. He said he was unable to comment on the specific situation as he was abroad.

"I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs, of national security, undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that."

"All I know is that that is not unusual for lots of nations," said Kerry.

"But beyond that, I'm not going to comment any further until I have all of the facts and find out precisely what the situation is," he said.

jr/hc (AP, AFP)