Merkel says Germans still have ‘difficulties’ over spying

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said that full trust had not been restored between the U.S. and Germany, months after revelations about the National Security Agency's spying outraged citizens around the globe.

“The situation is such that we have a few difficulties yet to overcome,” Merkel said in a joint press conference.

President Obama agreed that the two countries are “not perfectly aligned yet” on the spying, “but we share the same values and we share the same concerns.”

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“This is something that is deeply important to me,” he added. He said he is “absolutely committed” to renewing the legal footing and international framework for the spying programs “by the time I leave this office.”

Merkel and Obama laid out plans for new bilateral negotiations on the issue as well as the possibility of closer coordination between the German parliament and U.S. Congress, which Merkel suggested should reassure the German public that the U.S. is committed to hearing out their concerns. 

“I take the message back home that the U.S. is ready to do this, is ready to discuss this, although we may have differences of opinion on certain issues,” she said in the White House’s Rose Garden.

“It’s very good that we have taken these first steps, and what’s still dividing us, for instance, is issues of proportionality and the like,” she added. “We will work on this, and it’s going to be on the agenda for the next few weeks to come."

Friday was the first time Merkel visited the White House since revelations from NSA leaker Edward Snowden detailed the extent of snooping operations at the U.S. spy agency last year. Among other efforts, NSA agents reportedly spied on Merkel’s cellphone, a disclosure that drew a harsh rebuke from the German leader.

“Spying among friends is never acceptable,” she said at the time.

In meetings on Friday, the agenda between the two leaders was dominated by the crisis in Ukraine and the multinational sanctions regime targeting Russia. But the spying issue has been a source of conflict between the two nations for months, even while the White House has taken steps to scale back its tracking of friendly foreigners.

“It has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship,” Obama said on Friday, “but more broadly, I’ve also been convinced for a very long time that it is important for our legal structures and our policy structures catch up with rapidly advancing technologies.”

The White House has called for extending federal protections that currently exist for Americans to foreigners, and Obama has also pledged to stop monitoring the communications of friendly foreign leaders.

Ahead of Merkel’s trip, her aides in Berlin had been downplaying the chances of a breakthrough deal on surveillance or some type of “no-spy” agreement, as they had pushed for in the past. The White House has denied that such a move is even a possibility.

“We do not have a blanket no-spy agreement with any country, with any of our closest partners,” Obama said.

Instead, the U.S. is working with German intelligence agencies to “make sure there are no misunderstandings” about spying operations. That’s similar to what the U.S. does with Canada, France, and other countries, Obama said.

“Germany is at the top of our list in terms of friends and allies and colleagues,” he said. “We’re not holding back from doing something with Germany that we somehow do with somebody else.”