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Berlin declares Merkel's state calls 'safe' from NSA spying

Berlin has declared Chancellor Angela Merkel's communications as "absolutely safe" despite claims that US intelligence tapped her mobile phone. Media speculation focuses on the US embassy's proximity to Merkel's office.

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US Embassy a nest of spies?

Deputy German government spokesman Georg Streiter said Friday in Berlin that Merkel conducted her important "state-political" conversations on encrypted fixed-circuit phone lines. If necessary, she also resorted to a specially-protected mobile phone.

Merkel, like every citizen, had, however, the right to communicate "freely and unencumbered," Streiter said, adding that the government had no indications that electronic eavesdropping had been done from the US embassy.

The alleged spying on Merkel, made public late on Wednesday by her main spokesman Steffen Seibert, has been condemned by a cross-section of German legislators and media.

Listening post?

The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) newspaper claimed on Friday that the US embassy - opened in 2008 next to Brandenburg Gate and less that a kilometer from the chancellery - housed a listening post of the US' Special Collection Service.

Streiter said Berlin had no such knowledge of this but added that ties with the US had reached a status that "could not continue." New trust had to be established, he said.

He said a "high-ranking" government delegation would travel to Washington next week to talk with officials of the White House and the US National Security Agency (NSA).

The delegation would press for unanswered responses to a catalogue of questions about the NSA submitted by Germany several months ago.

Streiter rejected recent criticism from German opposition parties that Merkel's chancellery minister Ronald Pofalla had in August trivialized impacts of the NSA affair.

Germany, Brazil spying resolution

The German and Brazilian governments are expected as early as next week to introduce a United Nations resolution highlighting the international uproar over US spying allegations and boosting online privacy rights, diplomatic sources told the DPA and AFP news agencies.

Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff had already called for UN action last month in protecting online data after allegations the NSA had spied on her office's communications.

Summoning 'very unusual'

The summoning of the US ambassador to Berlin, John B Emerson, by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday was a "very unusual" step, said German Foreign Office spokesman Andreas Peschke on Friday.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung - citing documents of the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden - said the collection service was run jointly by the NSA and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The collection service "works worldwide in American embassies and consulates," the SZ said, echoing a similar claim made earlier this year by the German news magazine Spiegel.

An embassy spokesman declined to confirm or deny the SZ report.

The revelations that the US tapped Merkel's cell phone followed French media reports this week that the NSA gathered 70 million recordings of French phone data last December and January.

Separated usages

The news agency Reuters quoted Merkel early Friday while still at an EU summit in Brussels as saying that the mobile phone in question was operated on an account held by her Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party.

She differentiated in her usage between party-political and government transactions, she said, to maintain a "consistent logic in my calls."

"For all other state-political relevant communications there are fixed network lines, "crypto-lines" and when one is not at home "crypto-cell phones," she said.

ipj,dr/rc (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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