President Obama will be the one getting grilled at the G8 summit beginning Monday in Northern Ireland. [WATCH VIDEO]
The National Security Agency’s collection of online data has created a firestorm of controversy in Europe, where privacy is highly valued.
U.S. allies are expected to press Obama over the issue in one-on-one meetings, and the fight over the programs threaten to be a distraction from White House goals to reach consensus on the next steps in Syria.
European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding wrote to Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderMichigan Republicans sue over US House district lines State courts become battlegrounds in redistricting fights New Hampshire Republicans advance map with substantially redrawn districts MORE demanding to know if EU citizens were being targeted by the NSA programs.
And German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she would talk to President Obama when they meet at the summit.
“She's a politician talking to her audience. And she has to reassure them of whatever's appropriate for her political reality,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), a senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs panel.
Like the embarrassing leaking of State Department documents to Wikileaks, the new NSA leaks threaten to make U.S.-EU cooperation more difficult, he and other lawmakers said.
“That happened with the Wikileaks revelations. So, here we go again. None of that's helpful if your primary purpose is to get broad allied cooperation,” Connolly said.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Intelligence panel, said U.S. allies were broadly informed about the program, even if their constituents weren't. Now Obama faces the additional challenge of having to reassure them that their secrets are safe with the U.S.
“We have to be concerned about our allies. It's not just about us,” Ruppersberger said.
Administration officials and lawmakers have argued the NSA programs prevented terrorist attacks on the U.S., and Ruppersberger said the same is true of U.S. allies. That, he suggested, would be an argument Merkel and other leaders could use with their own constituencies.
“We have helped thwart many attacks in other countries,” he said. “It's important to them too. We work together. They get our information, we get theirs.”
He suggested the leaking of the information is what is really the outrage.
“It's getting to the point now where people don't want to talk to us. Why do they want to give us information if it's going to get leaked?” he said.
Previewing the summit on Friday, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the president would address Merkel's concerns directly.
“We understand the significant German interest in privacy and civil liberties,” he told reporters.
He said Obama would make the case that the programs includes safeguards and that it is only seeking to uncover terrorist plots, not everyday activity.
“So I think our point is that this is focused very specifically on one goal, which is, you know, how do we disrupt terrorist activity?” he said. “How do we mitigate security threats both to us and to Germany?”