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Last updated: July 1, 2013 5:55 pm
François Hollande, the French president, has demanded an immediate halt to alleged US surveillance of European allies, saying such action is unacceptable and signalling it could threaten recently launched EU-US talks on a new trade agreement.
“We cannot accept this type of behaviour between partners and allies. We demand that it ceases immediately,” Mr Hollande said.
It was the strongest reaction yet by a European leader as European recriminations intensified over the claims of US spying on EU and European offices in Washington and New York.
Both the French and German governments called in their respective US ambassadors to explain the spying allegations, with Mr Hollande saying he had ordered Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, to take the issue up with John Kerry, the US secretary of state.
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Angela Merkel, said that if proven true, “the bugging of friends is unacceptable. We are not in the cold war any longer”.
He said the question was top priority for the German chancellor, who would call President Barack Obama to discuss it. Berlin wanted to see “trust restored” between close friends and partners.
Speaking in Tanzania, Mr Obama said that his administration would provide information to allied governments about its activities but suggested that all governments do the same.
Mr Obama said that “we should stipulate that every intelligence service – not just ours, but every European intelligence service is . . . seeking additional insight beyond what’s available through open sources.”
The European Commission has meanwhile ordered a sweep of its facilities in Brussels following revelations that US intelligence agencies have been tapping data feeds and bugging communications of EU offices and missions.
Mr Hollande said the issue should not be prejudged, but added that there were “already sufficient elements” to justify demands for an explanation. “We demand confirmation or denial,” he said. “We know well that there have to be monitoring systems, especially in the fight against terrorism, but I don’t think that it is in our embassies or the EU that risk exists.”
He signalled that talks on a transatlantic trade and investment partnership due to get under way in earnest in Washington next week should not proceed until the issue was cleared up.
“We cannot have negotiations or transactions in any area without these guarantees, for France but also for all the EU, all the partners of the US.”
Mr Hollande’s reaction underscored France’s reticence over the EU-US trade talks, which it fears could open up stiffer competition in areas such as agricultural goods. Leaders of the green, far left and extreme right parties have called for the talks to be called off following the spying allegations.
Nicole Bricq, the trade minister, told the news agency AFP that the allegations could disrupt EU-US relations, saying if confidence between the two sides was broken it would be “extremely difficult to conduct these extremely important trade negotiations”.
Mr Obama said that US officials would brief European allies once they knew which specific programmes were being referred to in the article, but insisted that intelligence-sharing with Europe would remain broad. “We work so closely together that there is almost no information that is not shared between our various countries,” he said.
Analysis of revelations about the extent of the surveillance state in the US
The revelations, published by Der Spiegel and the Guardian based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, said US spying efforts focused on EU and European offices in New York and Washington. But the Der Spiegel account said such efforts had also occurred in Brussels.
Pia Ahrenkilde, a European Commission spokesperson, said José Manuel Barroso, commission president, ordered the “comprehensive sweep” after the revelations were published.
Ms Ahrenkilde called the revelations “disturbing” and said Brussels would “demand full clarification” from Washington.
Michael Mann, a spokesman for the EU’s diplomatic corps, said the EU’s mission in Washington moved offices in 2010, the same year as the Snowden documents, and its mission to the UN moved last year, suggesting the US spying may be “historic”.
Pierre Vimont, the EU’s second most senior diplomat, summoned William Kennard, the US ambassador, for clarification on Monday. The two had been in contact by telephone twice on Sunday, diplomats said.
Additional reporting by Geoff Dyer in Washington
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