Obama invites Merkel to visit after row over US spying on her cellphone

Invitation extended to visit Washington after dispute over US eavesdropping on her cellphone

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 10:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 10:59pm


US President Barack Obama has invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington, hoping to mend fences after a row provoked by revelations of US eavesdropping on her cellphone.

Obama called Merkel to wish her a speedy recovery after her recent skiing injury and invited her to visit at a "mutually agreeable time in the coming months", the White House said.

Merkel last year reacted furiously to claims that the US National Security Agency had been listening in on her mobile phone, telling Obama in October that this would be a "breach of trust" between two allies.

Media reports of snooping based on documents leaked by fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have damaged US relations with key allies and were a political and personal embarrassment for Obama.

“They must be explained and … for the future, new trust must be built

Washington has not confirmed the eavesdropping, but it implicitly gave credence to the reports by the careful formulation of its response to media questions. The White House said US spies were not currently monitoring Merkel's phone and would not do so in the future, but would not comment on past surveillance activity.

The invitation to Merkel comes as the White House tries to draw a line under the Snowden issue, with Obama poised to give a speech to Americans this month detailing how the NSA's massive phone and data collection activities will be reformed.

"The president spoke to Chancellor Merkel today to wish her a speedy recovery following her injury and to congratulate her on the formation of her new cabinet," a White House statement said on Wednesday.

"The leaders noted the full agenda for 2014, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations and Nato summit, and looked forward to working closely together to advance our shared interests," the White House said.

Merkel's office confirmed in a statement that she would accept Obama's invitation to visit the United States, but, like the White House, did not offer a date.

The coming meeting may be a sign that neither side wants the NSA issue to disrupt what may be the most important relationship between the United States and a nation on continental Europe.

"This is the best way to try to begin to mend fences over the NSA affair," said Stephen Szabo of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The NSA allegations were especially damaging in Germany due to sensitivity over mass state spying on citizens by the Stasi secret police in the former communist East. They were also a political embarrassment for Merkel, and she demanded answers over what she said were "grave" allegations that tested transatlantic ties ahead of crucial trade talks.

"They must be explained and, more important still for the future, new trust must be built," she told the German parliament.

The White House would not say whether Obama and Merkel had discussed the NSA phone-tapping allegations.

One reporter raised a laugh among his peers in the White House briefing room, however, when he asked whether the call had taken place on a mobile phone or a fixed landline.