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US seeks to ease NSA tension

October 22, 2013

Washington has sought to pacify French anger over reports of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency. Several US allies have demanded answers from Washington over the widespread spying.

Barack Obama telefoniert im Oval Office picture alliance / Photoshot
Image: picture alliance/Photoshot

US hit by new spying row

US President Barack Obama phoned French President Francois Hollande on Monday in an effort to pacify relations between the two allies. The call was prompted by an article published by the French daily Le Monde alleging that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had listened in on millions of French phone calls.

According to a statement from Hollande's office, the French president told Obama that the alleged spying is "unacceptable between friends and allies because they infringe on the privacy of French citizens."

Meanwhile, a White House statement said the two leaders "discussed recent disclosures in the press - some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies."

According to Le Monde's online article published Monday, the NSA gathered 70.3 million French phone records between December 10, 2012 and January 8 of this year. The article cited documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and was co-written by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who originally broke the NSA story.

Visiting Paris on a previously scheduled trip for talks on the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the US would discuss the situation privately with French officials and other concerned countries.

"We will have ongoing bilateral consultations, including with our French partners, to address this question of any reports by the US government gathering information from some of the agencies and those consultations are going to continue," Kerry said.

Kerry did however attempt to defend the US position. “Protecting the security of our citizens in today's world is a very complicated, very challenging task... because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people," he said at a press conference after meeting with members of the Arab League.

Earlier on Monday French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius summoned the US ambassador to France over the allegations and told reporters, "These kinds of practices between partners that harm privacy are totally unacceptable.”

International outrage

The revelations of US espionage have angered several US allies. On Sunday, the Mexican Foreign Ministry demanded answers from Washington after the publication of a separate article alleging NSA-snooping on Mexico. The latest revelations stemmed from an article published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel which said the US surveillance program had been spying on Mexico for years.

"This practice is unacceptable, illegitimate and contrary to Mexican law and international law," a statement issued by the Mexican Foreign Ministry said.

"The Mexican government reiterates its categorical condemnation of the violation of privacy of institutional communications and Mexican citizens," it added.

Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington in protest of alleged surveillance on Brazilian citizens and companies.

Last week, Deutsche Telekom announced a plan to shield domestic Internet traffic from foreign spying. The telecommunications giant aims to strengthen data privacy in Germany by preventing it from leaving its borders and opting instead to channel it through domestic servers only.

hc/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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