Kerry calls spying on allies 'not unusual,' downplays EU claims

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday said he would look into claims the National Security Agency bugged offices of the European Union, but downplayed the reports, saying such spycraft is "not unusual."

"Every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security, and all kinds of information contributes to that," Kerry said at a news conference in Brunei, according to the BBC.

"All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations. But beyond that I'm not going to comment any further until I have all the facts and find out precisely what the situation is," he added.

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The German magazine Der Spiegel reported the eavesdropping effort over the weekend, based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, the former defense contractor who leaked information about other top-secret NSA surveillance programs. It reported said that the United States intercepted some half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany alone.

The revelation has caused outrage across the European continent, leading to angry responses from many top officials.

Germany on Monday summoned the U.S. ambassador for a meeting to discuss the matter, and a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would speak to Obama "soon" about the claims, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he as "deeply worried and shocked about the allegations" in a statement, according to CNN. "If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations. On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the U.S. authorities with regard to these allegations." 

Kerry said that EU High Representative Catherine Ashton had raised concerns with him during a meeting in Brunei, where he is attending an Asian security conference.

Kerry's trip was further complicated by a report in The Guardian, which said the United States also targeted allies like Japan, South Korea and India for surveillance.

"I'm aware of the article, but we still haven't confirmed the contents of the story. Obviously we're interested in this matter and we'll seek an appropriate confirmation on this," said Japan's chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, at a news conference, according to Reuters.

Kerry was also peppered with questions about the role China played in allowing Snowden to leave Hong Kong despite an extradition request from the United States. Snowden is now thought to be at the airport in Moscow, awaiting news on an asylum request to Ecuador.

Kerry said the Chinese could have "made a difference" in intervening, but also noted that the U.S.-Chinese relationship was a multifaceted one, and that the governments would continue to cooperate on issues like North Korea, according to The Associated Press.

The secretary of State is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where he will likely again press the Russians to expel Snowden back to the United States.

—This story was updated at 7:52 a.m.