Germany: 'Serious breach of trust' if US spied on Merkel

US 'is not monitoring and will not monitor' the chancellor, White House spokesman says

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is demanding an "immediate" clarification from President Barack Obama on a spying program.
Markus Schreiber/AP

A day ahead of an EU summit in Brussels where alleged U.S. espionage against its allies likely will dominate discussion, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called and complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after learning that U.S. intelligence officials may have monitored her mobile phone, her spokesman said.

Merkel said this would be "a serious breach of trust" if confirmed, and she demanded an immediate clarification from Obama, according to a statement issued by the German leader’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama had "assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor."  

However, the strongly worded statement by Merkel's spokesman suggests that Germany is not fully satisfied. It demanded an "immediate and comprehensive" clarification of U.S. surveillance practices.

Merkel "made clear that she views such practices, if proven true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally," the statement read.

"Between close friends and partners, as Germany and the U.S. have been for decades, there should not be such monitoring of the communications of a government leader," the statement read. "This would be a serious breach of trust. Such practices should be immediately stopped."

The allegations surfaced as European leaders prepare to kick off a two-day summit in Brussels Thursday where alleged espionage by Washington against two of its closest allies — Germany and France — is expected to overshadow previously agreed-upon topics.

The German government said it responded after receiving "information that the chancellor's cellphone may be monitored" by U.S. intelligence. It would not elaborate, but the German news magazine Der Spiegel, which has published material from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, said its research triggered the response.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has summoned the U.S. ambassador to Berlin to discuss the issue, a government spokesman said Thursday. 

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Rome, faced fresh questions about spying on European allies based on revelations from Snowden, the fugitive ex-U.S. intelligence operative granted asylum in Russia.

Global anger over US spying

In Italy, major newspapers recently reported that a parliamentary committee was told the U.S. had intercepted Italians’ phone calls, emails and text messages. Prime Minister Enrico Letta raised the topic of spying during a visit Wednesday with Kerry. A senior State Department official said Kerry made it clear that the Obama administration's goal was to strike the right balance between security needs and privacy expectations.

French President Francois Hollande is pressing for the U.S. spying issue to be put on the agenda of the summit. The French newspaper Le Monde reported earlier this week that the NSA had collected tens of thousands of French phone records.

Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade called on the U.S. on Tuesday to widen an investigation into spying to include allegations that the NSA had hacked former President Felipe Calderon's public email account.

Few countries have responded as angrily to U.S. spying as Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff took the extremely rare diplomatic step of canceling a visit to Washington, where she had been scheduled to receive a full state dinner this week.

Just four months ago, Obama defended U.S. security tactics on a visit to Berlin, telling Germans at a news conference with Merkel that Washington was not spying on ordinary citizens.

Revelations before the trip of a covert U.S. Internet surveillance program, code-named Prism, caused outrage in a country where memories of the eavesdropping Stasi secret police in the former East Germany are still fresh.

Wire services

Timeline of Edward Snowden's revelations

Al Jazeera's in-depth look at four months of leaks by the ex-NSA contractor who fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong to Russia after releasing loads of documents on surveillance in the U.S. and around the world. The information below is compiled from the news outlets that first reported the data.

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