Obama and Hollande closer to resolving concerns about spying

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 11:50pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 11:50pm

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande say that they have come closer to resolving concerns about the scope of US electronic surveillance overseas, which outraged citizens in France and the rest of Europe.

Their joint appearance in the East Room of the White House came during Hollande's two-day visit aimed at showing solidarity between the United States and France, a long-time ally. The two leaders expressed support for each other on a range of issues, including Syria, Iran and trade.

Obama said the US was "committed to making sure that we are protecting and concerned about the privacy rights not just of Americans, not just of our own citizens, but of people around the world". He added that such a commitment was "fairly unprecedented in terms of any country's intelligence operations".

His administration was putting restrictions in place to prevent inappropriate surveillance of "ordinary citizens in France", he said. "We are respectful of their privacy rights, and we are going to make sure that our rules are abiding by concerns about those privacy rights."

Hollande said he and Obama had "clarified things" after disclosures of surveillance by the National Security Agency, leaked last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"We are making headway in this co-operation. Mutual trust has been restored," Hollande said. "That mutual trust must be based on respect for each other's country but also based on protection - protection of private life, of personal data, the fact that any individual, in spite of technological progress, can be sure that he's not being spied on."

Obama was asked by a French reporter whether the United States would enter into a "no spy" agreement with France.

"There's no country where we have a no-spy agreement," Obama said. "You know, we have, like every other country, an intelligence capability, and then we have a range of partnerships with all kinds of countries. And we've been in consultations with the French government to deepen those commitments."

A French reporter asked Obama if the country had surpassed Britain as America's top European ally.

"I have two daughters. And they are both gorgeous and wonderful, and I would never choose between them," Obama said, drawing laughs. "And that's how I feel about my outstanding European partners. All of them are wonderful in their own ways."

Hollande said: "We're not trying to be anyone's favourite."