Obama, Merkel ‘exchanging views’ in first phone chat since CIA moles row

Conversation on 'intelligence cooperation' their first since CIA station chief in Berlin expelled in latest row over American snooping on key ally

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 10:07pm

US President Barack Obama yesterday spoke to Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time since a row over US spying prompted Germany to turf out the CIA station chief in Berlin.

The White House gave away little of the conversation about the latest espionage scandal to rock the crucial relationship between the US president and Europe's most powerful leader.

A statement said that Obama and Merkel "exchanged views on US-German intelligence cooperation, and the president said he'd remain in close communication on ways to improve cooperation going forward".

The phrase "exchanged views" may suggest the two leaders were far apart on how they see the issue.

Obama and Merkel have forged a firm working relationship, but successive revelations about US spying and surveillance have strained US-German ties and put the German leader under intense political pressure at home.

Reports that two German government employees were being investigated amid claims they were double agents for the CIA rattled ties, which had barely recovered from claims that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped Merkel's mobile phone.

The row over espionage first erupted last year over revelations by fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden that the NSA was conducting massive internet and phone data sweeps, including in Germany.

US Secretary of State John Kerry made the first attempt to improve ties on Sunday in talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Vienna.

He said that the two transatlantic allies remained "great friends".

Steinmeier said that Germany wanted a revived partnership with Washington based on "trust" and mutual confidence.

The German move in throwing out the CIA station chief was seen in many quarters as a sharp message to Washington that Berlin wanted its complaints about US espionage heard.

The White House has refused to address the substance of the allegations publicly, and has generally brushed off the matter as standard intelligence procedures.

German intelligence and security negotiators travelled to the United States earlier this year in the hope of concluding a "no spying" deal - similar to America's arrangement with partners Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the US intelligence community has rejected such a deal for Germany, fearing it could set a precedent for other nations.

Merkel lamented a breakdown in trust between the two allies in an interview broadcast on Saturday.

"The thing we always have to keep in mind when we are working together is if the person across the table is possibly working for someone else at the same time, that for me isn't a trusting relationship," she told German television.

"Here we obviously have different points of view and we need to talk to one another," Merkel said, adding that she had "naturally hoped for a change" in Washington's behaviour.

The White House statement also noted that Obama and Merkel discussed nuclear talks with Iran, amid signs the negotiations between Tehran and world powers would be extended beyond a Sunday deadline.

Additional reporting by Reuters