Obama: ‘We Do Not Have a Blanket No-Spy Agreement With Any Country’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added that the countries have “difficulties yet to overcome.”

US President Barack Obama speaks about the healthcare reform laws, known as Obamacare, at an Organizing for Action event in Washington, DC, November 4, 2013.  
National Journal
Dustin Volz
May 2, 2014, 9:25 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama on Fri­day ad­dressed the rolling con­tro­versy sur­round­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ter­na­tion­al sur­veil­lance and re­jec­ted sug­ges­tions that the U.S. had brokered a “no-spy agree­ment” with any of its al­lies.

“It’s not quite ac­cur­ate to say that the U.S. gov­ern­ment offered a no-spy agree­ment and then with­drew it,” Obama said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. “What is ac­cur­ate to say is that we do not have a blanket no-spy agree­ment with any coun­try, with any of our closest part­ners,” in­clud­ing Ger­many.

Obama con­tin­ued: “What we do have are series of part­ner­ships and pro­ced­ures and pro­cesses that are built up between the vari­ous in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, and what we’re do­ing with the Ger­mans — as we do with the French or Brit­ish or Ca­na­dians or any­body — is to work through what ex­actly the rules are gov­ern­ing the re­la­tion­ship between each coun­try, and make sure that there are no mis­un­der­stand­ings.”

Merkel’s vis­it to the White House marks her first since rev­el­a­tions about the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s sur­veil­lance pro­grams sur­faced last June due to leaks sup­plied by Ed­ward Snowden. Among the dis­clos­ures were in­dic­a­tions that Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion had tapped Merkel’s private phone.

The press con­fer­ence ar­rived just a day after a New York Times re­port that ef­forts between the two coun­tries to reach a sweep­ing ac­cord on their re­la­tion­ship had fallen apart. While the bulk of the two lead­ers’ sum­mit is fo­cused on the Ukraine crisis and in­ter­na­tion­al sanc­tions im­posed on Rus­sia, it dove­tailed in­to the “no-spy agree­ment” when a Ger­man re­port­er asked Merkel if her coun­try had re­gained its trust in Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We have a few dif­fi­culties yet to over­come, [but] there’s go­ing to be cy­ber dia­logue between our coun­tries,” Merkel said in re­sponse, ac­cord­ing to a trans­lat­or. “We have taken the first steps, and what is still di­vid­ing us — for ex­ample, is­sues of pro­por­tion­al­ity and the like — will be ad­dressed, and it’s go­ing to be on the agenda for the next few weeks to come.”

Merkel ad­ded that she was con­fid­ent Obama was com­mit­ted to con­tinu­ing an open dia­logue, even if dif­fer­ences of opin­ion proved dif­fi­cult to re­solve.

Obama agreed that work still needed to be done, not­ing that the two na­tions were “not per­fectly aligned” on how they viewed gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance of al­lies. He ad­di­tion­ally took an­oth­er shot at the fu­git­ive Snowden, say­ing his ac­tions “have cre­ated strains in the re­la­tion­ship” with Ger­many and oth­ers.

Earli­er this year, Obama an­nounced a bevy of re­forms to the NSA, in­clud­ing a prom­ise to not spy on the private com­mu­nic­a­tions of for­eign heads of state.

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