By Julian Hattem - 07/10/14 10:09 AM EDT
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday expelled the top American intelligence official from her country.
The retaliatory action comes on the heels of German investigations into two people suspected of covertly spying for the U.S., allegations that have stirred new tensions between the two nations.
Seibert added that the expulsion came “in light of the ongoing investigation” into the suspected spies as well as months of “unsolved questions on the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany,” which the German Parliament has begun to investigate.
The action was a highly unusual step that was “unheard of in recent German-American history,” said Dieter Dettke, a Georgetown University professor on German foreign policy, and meant as an indication that the government takes the spying allegations seriously.
“The best friends of the United States [in Germany] are offended by what happened,” he said. “That needs to be understood. It is very, very bad.”
Clemens Binninger, a member of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party, called the action “a political reaction of the government to the lack of willingness of U.S. authorities to help clear up any questions arising in the past year” about spying on German leaders, according to The New York Times.
A White House official would not comment on the new development, because it pertained to intelligence matters, but praised the longtime cooperation between the U.S. and Germany.
The U.S.'s “security and intelligence relationship with Germany is a very important one and it keeps Germans and Americans safe,” Caitlin Hayden said in a statement sent to The Hill. “It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest also declined to comment when pressed by reporters traveling with the president in Texas.
"Any sort of comment on any reported intelligence acts would put at risk U.S. assets, U.S. personnel and the United States national security," Earnest said.
The White House spokesman added the administration was "in touch with the Germans at a variety of levels, including through law enforcement, diplomatic and even intelligence channels,” but said he did not believe the president has spoken directly with Merkel since last week, when the spying incident did not come up.
"The strength of our national security relationship with Germany is important to American national security; it's also important to the national security of the Germans," Earnest said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she expects Secretary of State John Kerry will soon speak to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier about the developments.
The United States’s relationship with Germany is “extremely important,” Psaki said, adding that senior administration officials would engage U.S. allies through diplomatic channels in the days ahead.
The recent spying allegations have rubbed salt into existing wounds over U.S. surveillance first opened last year, when documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed that the National Security Agency had listened in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone conversations.
The German public, with fresh memories of living under a police state, has been especially outraged about the revelations. Merkel said that the continued spying would be a “clear contradiction” of trust between the two nations, if the allegations were proven to be true.
—This post was updated at 1:34 p.m.