Germany and France Propose Talks With U.S. to Rein In Spying

BRUSSELS — The leaders of Germany
and France offered on Friday to hold
talks with the United States in an effort
come up with mutually acceptable rules
for surveillance operations, easing a
trans-Atlantic spying dispute that has
plunged relations between America and
Europe to a low point.
Fury over reports that American
intelligence had monitored the
cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel
of Germany spread from there to other
European leaders a day earlier and
prompted calls to suspend trade talks
with the United States.
The concerns could spread with the
publication in The Guardian
newspaper of a report that as long ago
as October 2006, the National Security
Agency had been eavesdropping on the
telephone conversations of 35 world
leaders. The assertion emerged in what
the newspaper described as a classified
document leaked by the former N.S.A.
intelligence contractor Edward J.
Snowden.
The article did not identify the leaders
but said their phone numbers had been
provided by other American officials in
response to a request from the N.S.A.
to share their contacts with intelligence
gatherers.
In Brussels, seeking to rebuild trust
among the longstanding allies, Ms.
Merkel told an early-morning news
conference that a pact should be agreed
by the end of the year ending the kind
of surveillance that was made public as
part of the disclosure of documents
harvested by Mr. Snowden.
The aim is to “come to a common
understanding of the services between
the United States and Germany and
France so that we put down a
framework for cooperation,” Ms.
Merkel said after European Union
leaders ended a first day of talks.
In a joint statement, the 28 European
Union leaders at the two-day summit
meeting “took note of the intention of
France and Germany to seek bilateral
talks” with the United States. The
leaders also “noted that other E.U.
countries are welcome to join this
initiative,” which they said “underlined
the close relationship between Europe
and the U.S.A. and the value of that
partnership.”
The revelations about the
eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel follow
reports of extensive American
electronic surveillance in France and
suggestions that American and British
intelligence services monitored and are
probably still monitoring Italian
telecommunications networks.
But in a further sign of a willingness to
defuse the dispute, Ms. Merkel said at
the news conference that the leaders
meeting in Brussels had not talked
about interrupting negotiations with
the United States to reach a landmark
trade deal aimed at reducing tariffs
and aligning regulations.
“I always take the view that when you
leave the room, you have to always
contemplate how to get back in again,”
said Ms. Merkel, referring to the
importance of keeping the trade talks
going. “In such a tense situation, such
talks may be even more important than
usual.”
Asked whether she wanted an apology
from the United States, Ms. Merkel said,
“The most important thing at this
juncture is to find a basis for the
future” so that “trust can be rebuilt.”
But she warned the United States that
“words will not be sufficient” to make
amends, adding, “It’s become clear for
the future that things have to change,
and they have to change radically.”
She also suggested that the door had
been left open to a possible suspension
of an agreement with the United States
that allows it to track the finances of
terrorist groups. Lawmakers at the
European Parliament voted earlier this
week to suspend the agreement because
of suspicions that the United States
authorities were tapping European
citizens’ personal financial data.
That agreement is important to
Washington because it allows the
American authorities to continue
having access to European banking
data from a cooperative responsible
for routing trillions of dollars daily
among banks, brokerage houses, stock
exchanges and other institutions. The
cooperative, the Society for Worldwide
Interbank Financial
Telecommunication, or Swift, is based
near Brussels. It provided the United
States with personal data after the
attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I have a certain understanding for the
position of the European Parliament,”
Ms. Merkel said. Approval by the
European Union’s member states is
required for the resolution to take
effect.
Some European Union officials have
seized on the latest revelations about
United States snooping as a way to give
new momentum to a fiercely contested
proposal that could require American
companies like Google and Yahoo to
seek clearance from European officials
before complying with United States
warrants seeking private data.
The legislation would also seek to
bolster privacy protection in Europe
with fines that could run to billions of
euros on the biggest technology
companies if they fail to adhere to
rules like those limiting the sharing of
personal data.
The proposal has met with fierce
opposition from business groups in the
United States and Europe. Countries
like Britain have pushed strongly to
delay any final decision rather than
endorse the deadline of spring 2014
called for by European Union officials
and lawmakers to adopt the rules.
The British view appeared to have
prevailed by Friday morning. In their
statement, the 28 leaders agreed that it
was “important to foster the trust of
citizens and businesses in the digital
economy,” but they said adopting the
privacy rules by 2015 would be
sufficient.