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Transatlantic relations

No to asylum, but Germans want to hear what Snowden has to say

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has again ruled out granting asylum to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. This comes amid growing calls for a way to be found for Snowden to meet with German parliamentarians.

Germans want to question Snowden, but how?

The chancellor's spokesman on Monday took great pains to stress the need to avoid a break with Washington over allegations of the mass surveillance of German citizens by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and possibly even the tapping of Merkel's mobile phone.

“The trans-Atlantic alliance remains for us Germans of exceptional importance,” Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin. He added that Germany had benefited more than virtually any other nation from its friendly relations with the United States and that this was a major factor to be weighed up in any and all decisions the government made.

Seibert also ruled out the idea of Berlin granting former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden asylum in Germany so that he could testify before a parliamentary committee looking into the US spying allegations. Snowden's situation, he said, did not meet the criteria for such a move.

Hermann Gröhe, the general secretary of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), made a similar statement, noting that the United States, which wants to put Snowden on trial on espionage charges, has a valid extradition agreement with Germany.

Possible Russia meeting

Meanwhile, a senior member of the Social Democrats (SPD), with whom the CDU aims to form the next government, has called for German officials to question Snowden in Moscow. Speaking on ARD public television on Sunday evening, Thomas Oppermann also didn't rule out the possibility of talking to Snowden in Germany. Whatever happened, he said, there needed to be a humanitarian solution to Snowden's status, while at the same time keeping German-US relations intact. The decision on whether and/or where Snowden would testify is up to the Bundestag lower house of parliament and its committees.

Snowden indicated that he was prepared to speak to German officials when he was visited by opposition Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele last week.

There is a report that a number of high-ranking US politicians are planning a trip to Europe to try to smooth relations, which have been damaged in recent months by the reports of mass surveillance by the NSA based on documents leaked by Snowden. The online edition of Spiegel magazine quoted the chairman of the US Senate's Subcommittee on European Affairs, Senator Chris Murphy, who confirmed that the trip was planned, but said dates had not been set and it wasn't yet clear who would take part.

Also on Monday, the head of Germany's BND intelligence service, Gerhard Schindler, and Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, were to meet their US counterparts in Washington. The talks are believed to be aimed at reaching a possible no-spying agreement between the two countries.

pfd/dr (Reuters, epd, AFP)

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