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Obama: Snowden revelations 'damaged impressions' of NSA in Germany

Talks in Washington on Monday focused on the conflict in Ukraine, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama also touched on issues including NSA espionage and nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The alleged eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (NSA) on Chancellor Merkel's mobile phone and sensitive nuclear disarmament talks with Iran took something of a backseat in Washington on Monday. Merkel and President Obama devoted much of their public appearance to discussing the conflict in Ukraine, showing a broadly united front - with the notable exception of whether to consider sending weapons to Kyiv's military.

Angela Merkel mit sicherem Smartphone BlackBerry Z10

Obama conceded that bugging the chancellor's mobile did not play well in Germany

Nevertheless, Obama did say that he was reviewing some of the US' international espionage policies, seeking to create greater transparency following the leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"There is no doubt that the Snowden revelations damaged impressions of Germans with respect to the US government and our intelligence cooperation," Obama said.

"I would like the German people to give us the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming the worst," the president said, pointing to past, successful security cooperation between the two countries.

Merkel did not take the opportunity to openly criticize US surveillance, instead applauding the NSA and other intelligence agencies for their coordination with Germany in combating security threats.

"The institutions of the United States of America still continue to provide us with a lot of very significant information and we don't want to do without this," Merkel said through an English interpreter.

'Crucial phase' of Iran negotiations

Obama also fielded some tricky questions on Monday about the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, following Secretary of State John Kerry's weekend meeting with his Iranian counterpart at the Munich Security Conference.

München - Sicherheitskonferenz Javad Zarif und John Kerry

Kerry and Iran's Javad Zarif held talks in Munich over the weekend

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address the US Congress on Iran in early March at the invitation of the opposition Republicans, used a campaign speech on Monday to criticize the international negotiations with Tehran.

"A bad deal with Iran is forming in Munich that will endanger Israel's existence," Netanyahu said. "Therefore I am determined to go to Washington and present Israel's position before the members of Congress and the American people."

Obama said he did not want to be "coy" on the matter, "the prime minister [Netanyahu] and I have a very real difference around Iran's sanctions." The president confirmed that he would not invite Netanyahu to the White House, saying that US presidents traditionally avoided meeting foreign leaders who face an upcoming election, to avoid the perception of trying to influence the outcome.

"As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House, and I suspect she wouldn't have asked for one," Obama said, to a smile from Merkel.

Iran sanctions a model for Russia, Ukraine?

Germany, along with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, is party to the talks with Tehran; Merkel said that the current negotiations were entering a "crucial phase." World leaders are hoping to reach an agreement in principle by March, while ironing out specifics by June. Obama said on Monday that a further extension of the talks would not be "useful."

Benjamin Netanjahu UN Vollversammlung

Netanyahu has long criticized the attempts to negotiate a deal with Tehran

Merkel also drew a parallel to the issue of sending weapons to the conflict in Ukraine, saying that the international sanctions against Iran over the years had proven their worth, bringing Tehran back to the negotiating table.

"For a very long period of time, we have had sanctions in place on Iran," Merkel said. "And I think they have been fairly successful if we look at the current state of affairs."

The German chancellor was expected in Canada later on Monday local time for talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

msh/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)