In a rare interview Saturday with German television, President Obama pledged that American surveillance programs would no longer target Germany’s chancellor, and said he did not want intelligence practices to harm the alliance between the nations.
The interview appeared a bid to repair the relationship with Germany after documents provided by Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency had monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel has criticized the White House and pressed for a no-spying pact with the United States.
On Saturday, the president insisted that “as long as I'm president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany will not have to worry” about wiretapping.
He added that he and Merkel "may not always be of the same opinion on issues of foreign policy, but that is no reason to wiretap."
Still, Obama stopped short of explicitly apologizing for the U.S. spying against Merkel.
He defended U.S. intelligence programs that “went beyond the abilities of many other states" and helped achieve shared “diplomatic and political goals.”
"I think it's fair to say that there are a whole series of European countries who are very glad that the U.S. has those military capabilities and intelligence capabilities," Obama said, according to NBC News.
"What is also true is because we have these greater capabilities it means that we have greater responsibilities when it comes to privacy and protection than other countries do, it means that there are higher expectations placed on us than other countries."
The interview came on the heels of Obama’s speech Friday to detail a set of reforms to U.S. intelligence programs.
Obama said he would now require intelligence agencies to obtain judicial approval before reviewing databases of information about Americans’ telephone calls, and that the government would examine how to end its collection of phone records.
He also said that he would ban eavesdropping on foreign leaders of close allies. A senior administration official said that would include “dozens” of heads of state, with Obama’s comments indicating that Germany is among them.
The administration also pledged to impose tighter safeguards on how communications between foreign citizens and Americans could be monitored, and issued a statement affirming that would not collect foreign intelligence to suppress criticism, target minorities or steal trade secrets.