A German panel of legislators has requested a meeting within the next four weeks in Moscow with US whistleblower Edward Snowden, senior politicians announced in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin on Thursday.
The request, issued by a parliamentary committee of inquiry, came just a day after Germany's federal prosecutor-general Harald Range said he had opened a criminal investigation into claims that Washington's National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropped on Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone. He said this investigation might include questioning Snowden, whose leaking of NSA documents began a year ago.
An extensive preliminary investigation produced sufficient evidence to show that members of the NSA had spied on the phone, Range's office said. Merkel accused Washington of a breach of trust after the phone tapping claims.
President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, criticized Germany for pursuing the claims with a criminal investigation.
"The best way to address the concerns that Germany has had about NSA's activities is through a direct dialogue with us," he said.
German politics divided over Snowden
The German parliamentary inquiry was appointed to investigate NSA operations, but has been divided over whether to invite Snowden, who has temporary asylum in Russia, to Berlin to testify.
Germany's two main opposition parties, the Left and the Greens, have called the planned trip to Moscow a pointless piece of self-promotion, and are insisting that any questioning of Snowden should take place in Germany. The German government fears that bringing Snowden onto German soil and not delivering him to the US could seriously damage bilateral relations.
Parliamentarians from the two main parties in Merkel's ruling coalition, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD), told reporters they wanted an "informal discussion" with Snowden in Moscow in preparation for a formal hearing.
They said they would request that Snowden meet the German legislators there before the Berlin parliamentary summer break begins on July 5.
Snowden has only testified live once before to legislators, speaking by video hookup from Moscow on April 8 to a committee of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.
Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer in Moscow for Snowden, said the 30-year-old was seeking an extension of his asylum in Russia, which is due to expire in July. Any request to interview him must first be approved by his lawyers.
NSA activities are a sensitive issue in Germany because of the role played in the nation's past by secret police and wiretaps, first under the Nazis and then under the East German Communist regime.
crh/hc (Reuters, dpa, afp)