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.