Merkel ‘calm but persistent’ over spy claims

German chancellor says she will not freeze talks following US spy reports

German chancellor Angela Merkel at the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina at Maracana  in Rio de Janeiro yesterday. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel at the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina at Maracana in Rio de Janeiro yesterday. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:00

Chancellor Angela Merkel has struck a conciliatory note in her standoff with Washington, dismissing opposition calls to freeze free-trade talks in retaliation for the US recruiting double agents in the German government.

Dr Merkel promised she would adopt a “calm but persistent” approach with Washington, days after ordering the top US intelligence agent to leave Berlin. Amid reports yesterday that the CIA is running at least a dozen agents inside German government ministries, the German leader conceded it was “not that easy” to change minds in Washington given “very different views on the work of intelligence services”.

“For us that includes not spying on each other,” she told German public television yesterday. “We are no longer in the cold war where everyone mistrusts everyone – we are facing completely different threats.”

A year after whistleblower Edward Snowden’s first revelations of mass US surveillance in Germany, including Dr Merkel’s mobile phone, the US has rebuffed German demands for no-spy agreement. Investigations into double agents in the foreign intelligence service (BND) and defence ministry last week increased pressure on the German leader to step up her political response.

Retaliation

Dr Merkel has ruled out further retaliation measures, saying it was “absolutely not in our interest” to put on ice transatlantic trade talks that would benefit Germany’s export-driven economy as much as the US, she said, “if not a little more”. She also drew a line through demands for Germany to scale back its extensive intelligence co-operation with the US.

“I’d like for this to continue,” she said, “we are facing asymmetric threats ... and we should concentrate on the important things.” However the German leader indicated that the double agent affair was unfinished business, with “no basis for trust” if the status quo continued. “I can’t predict this, but of course I hope that something will change,” she said.

Co-operation

On the sidelines of talks in Vienna, US secretary of state John Kerry praised the “enormous political co-operation” between Washington and Berlin. “We will continue to work together,” said Mr Kerry after talks with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Despite “the difficulties of the recent weeks”, Germany’s chief diplomat agreed on the need for constructive co-operation to resolve conflicts in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Iran – the focus of the Vienna talks. “Ties between the US and Germany are necessary and essential for both of us,” said Mr Steinmeier.

“We want to work on reviving this relationship, on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.” German investigators are still examining information sold by the reported double agent in the BND. A 31-year-old man from the eastern city of Chemnitz, identified in the German media as Mark R, told investigators he handed over 218 files during meetings in Salzburg with CIA agents based in the US embassy in Vienna.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, documents handed over by the BND agent contained information indicating a second double agent, a 37-year-old man identified only as Leonid K, was working at the defence ministry.