White House, Germany try to rebuild trust

 
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White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and counterterrorism czar Lisa Monaco held intensive talks with their German counterparts Tuesday in Berlin, as the White House scrambled to ease tensions with Germany.

Germany’s government was furious with the United States after the arrest of two German officials accused of spying for the U.S. That followed reports that the National Security Agency had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone. In retaliation, Germany has demanded the CIA station chief in Berlin leave the country.

“The full range of issues was addressed, including intelligence and security matters,” the White House said of the meeting, which included Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff.

The two sides agreed to set up a “structured dialogue” to deal with concerns on both sides and to establish principles for future cooperation, the White House said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the meeting was the result of a telephone conversation between President Obama and Merkel but declined to detail what was discussed by the German and American officials.

“I would describe the talks as productive and a useful trip,” Earnest said.

The meeting came four days after a conversation between Merkel and Obama, the second conversation between the leaders since allegations of U.S. spying surfaced.

Earlier this month, German police arrested an intelligence officer who admitted to selling secrets to the United States. A subsequent investigation revealed the CIA had also recruited a defense ministry employee to spy, according to German officials.

Merkel has publicly expressed outrage over the flap but said she did not believe Washington would stop spying on her country.

“I think it’s not that easy to convince the Americans ... to completely change the way their intelligence services work,” Merkel said in an interview with German TV station ZDF, translated by The Associated Press.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the Obama administration had offered Germany a deal similar to the one the United States has with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom that would have limited U.S. intelligence activities within the country. The offer was apparently a last-ditch bid to prevent the expulsion of the CIA station chief.

But Germany reportedly turned down the deal because it would have required a greater investment in its intelligence services.

The White House has largely refrained from commenting publicly on efforts to smooth the waters, although Earnest appeared to indicate the U.S. believed the alleged spying between the allies was par for the course in comments to reporters earlier this month.

“Allies with sophisticated intelligence agencies like the United States and Germany understand, with some degree of detail, exactly what those intelligence relationships and activities entail,” Earnest said. “Any differences that we have are most effectively resolved through established private channels, not through the media. These private channels include regular discussions between intelligence officials, diplomatic officials, and national security officials from those two countries. So pursuing that dialogue through those channels is exactly what we’re doing.”

The incident has threatened to further strain the relationship with Merkel, who expressed outrage after documents provided by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed her personal cellphone had been targeted for monitoring.

This story was posted at 11:19 a.m. and updated at 11:29 a.m. and 7:48 p.m.