BRUSSELS – European leaders united in anger as they attended a summit overshadowed by reports of widespread U.S. spying on its allies – allegations German Chancellor Angela Merkel said had shattered trust in the Obama administration and undermined the crucial trans-Atlantic relationship.
The latest revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency swept up more than 70 million phone records in France and may have tapped Merkels own cellphone brought denunciations from the French and German governments.
Merkels unusually stern remarks Thursday as she arrived at the European Union gathering indicated she wasnt placated by a phone conversation she had Wednesday with President Barack Obama, or his personal assurances that the U.S. is not listening in on her calls now.
We need trust among allies and partners, Merkel told reporters in Brussels. Such trust now has to be built anew. This is what we have to think about.
The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies, the German leader said. But such an alliance can only be built on trust. Thats why I repeat again: Spying among friends, that cannot be.
The White House may soon face other irked heads of state and government. The British newspaper the Guardian said Thursday it obtained a confidential memo suggesting the NSA was able to monitor 35 world leaders communications in 2006.
The memo said the NSA encouraged senior officials at the White House, Pentagon and other agencies to share their contacts so the spy agency could add foreign leaders phone numbers to its surveillance systems, the report said.
Other European leaders arriving for the 28-nation meeting echoed Merkels anger. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called it completely unacceptable to eavesdrop on an allied leader.
If reports that Merkels cellphone had been tapped are true, it is exceptionally serious, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
We want the truth, Italian Premier Enrico Letta said.
After summit talks that lasted until after 1 a.m. today, Herman Van Rompuy, European Council president, said France and Germany were seeking bilateral talks with the United States to resolve the dispute over electronic spying by the end of this year.
Without a partnership of respect and trust, intelligence agencies of the European nations cannot cooperate fully with the Americans in fighting terrorism, Van Rompuy said.
The Europeans statements and actions indicated that they hadnt been satisfied with assurances from Washington. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama personally assured Merkel that her phone is not being listened to now and wont be in the future.
Asked Thursday whether the Americans had monitored Merkels previous communications, White House spokesman Carney wouldnt rule it out.
Nobody in Germany will be able to say any longer that NSA surveillance – which is apparently happening worldwide and millions of times – is serving solely intelligence-gathering or defense against Islamic terror or weapons proliferation, said Hans-Christian Strobele, a member of the German parliamentary oversight committee.
Because, if you tap the cellphone or the phone connection of the presidents of France or Brazil, or the cellphone of the chancellor, then this is no longer about collecting intelligence about international terrorism, but then that is about competition, about getting advantages in this competition and winning. Thats why today is a watershed moment.