, BERLIN, Oct 24 – German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded answers from President Barack Obama on Wednesday after learning US spies may have monitored her phone, warning this would be “breach of trust” between allies.
The White House, rattled by the latest exposure based on leaks from intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, said it is not now listening in on Merkel, but did not deny the possibility her communications may have been intercepted in the past.
In the wake of Snowden’s ongoing revelations, several more key US countries have already complained about American electronic surveillance, and the White House is struggling to stem the diplomatic damage.
A spokesman for Merkel, who has registered strong disapproval at US National Security Agency activities in the past, said his boss had called Obama after Germany received information that US intelligence may be spying on her mobile phone.
Steffen Seibert said in a statement that Merkel “made clear that she unequivocally disapproves of such practices, should they be confirmed, and regards them as completely unacceptable”.
She had demanded “an immediate and comprehensive explanation” from Washington, the statement said.
“Among close friends and partners, as the Federal Republic of Germany and the US have been for decades, there should be no such monitoring of the communications of a head of government,” the statement added, indirectly citing Merkel’s comments to Obama.
“This would be a serious breach of trust.”
“Such practices must be stopped immediately,” the German chancellor told Obama, the statement said.
The White House, embarrassed by the latest allegations of NSA spying on foreign leaders, came up with a hurried response to the telephone call.
“The President assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Carney was then asked whether US spies could have inadvertently picked up Merkel’s communications during a wider sweep of global telephone calls linked to a vast anti-terror program.
He repeated the linguistic formulation of his earlier answer, in a way that did not deny the possibility that the NSA had indeed accessed Merkel’s conversations in the past.
Carney stressed that Obama was reviewing the way Washington gathers intelligence “so that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”
The latest allegations came as the French newspaper Le Monde stood by claims that Washington had monitored millions of phone calls inside France.
Washington has said many of Le Monde’s claims were false, but Obama had another embarrassing call with a foreign leader when he spoke to French President Francois Hollande on Monday.
German and US intelligence agencies cooperate closely on counter terrorism efforts and other matters related to espionage.