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Stalemate in US-Germany talks over 'no spy' agreement - report

Published time: January 14, 2014 14:43
Edited time: January 14, 2014 16:51
Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach

Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach

The US and German security agencies have reportedly stumbled over a bilateral treaty which would stop the US spying on the German government. According to local media reports, Washington has failed to meet Berlin’s key demands.

Tuesday’s edition of Süddeutsche Zeitung daily came out with the headline ‘The Americans lied to us’. The German daily was quoting an unnamed high-ranking local official who claimed that even in the wake of the recent scandal, when it emerged that the NSA had been tapping the mobile telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the White House would not promise to stop listening to German politicians’ phone calls.

Later in the day, Germany dismissed reports that the talks were close to collapse. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere stated that they were proceeding, but failed to directly comment on the report, according to Reuters.

In October Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, where phone tapping was common practice, compared the NSA’s spying to that of the Stasi secret police in the former German Democratic Republic. Documents leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA allegedly ran a listening station from the US Embassy in Berlin.

According to Süddeutsche and a report on public broadcaster NDR, during the negotiations the US officials were expected to give German counterparts access to the alleged listening station, believed to be on the top floor of the US embassy in Berlin, and to shed light on how long Merkel’s phone had been monitored and whether she was Germany's only key politician to be targeted.

Süddeutsche has quoted a "German expert familiar with the state of the negotiations" as saying "we're getting nothing."

As a result, according to the newspaper, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) Gerhard Schindler stated that if things don't improve, he would prefer not to sign the deal at all.

In the wake of the scandal which provoked public outrage in Germany, Berlin demanded "an immediate and comprehensive explanation" about what it said was "a serious breach of trust."

"Among close friends and partners, as the Federal Republic of Germany and the US have been for decades, there should be no such monitoring of the communications of a head of government," Berlin said a statement, while Angela Merkel told Barack Obama that "such practices must be prevented immediately." She phoned the US President to demand personal apologies and explanations.

However, according to Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, President Obama was aware of NSA spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Citing US intelligence sources, the newspaper claimed that NSA chief Keith Alexander briefed Obama on the bugging operation against Merkel back in 2010.

To defend the NSA’s activities, the Obama administration has chosen to justify its mass espionage operations as being in the interests of national security. In December the UN General Assembly unanimously called on a curb of supernormal surveillance of communications, however.

Germany and Brazil proposed the resolution after they learnt that the US was intercepting the communications of both Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and Germany’s Merkel. All 193 UN member states agreed "to respect and protect the right to privacy, including in the context of digital communication." Although the UN General Assembly resolution is not legally binding, it represents the international opinion on the issue and holds political weight.