US-German ties ‘worse now’ than during Iraq war due to spying

Merkel ally says anger in Berlin over US spying tactics has placed strain on relationship

The comments are among the strongest from a senior German figure since leaks of a massive US spying programme first emerged last year.

The comments are among the strongest from a senior German figure since leaks of a massive US spying programme first emerged last year.

Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 21:28

Relations between Germany and the United States are worse now than during the US-led invasion of Iraq a decade ago, a leading ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel said today, in a sign of mounting anger in Berlin over American spying tactics.

Philipp Missfelder, foreign policy spokesman for Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament, said Berlin should bar US access to a database of international financial transactions unless Washington promises to stop spying in Germany.

The politician is expected to be confirmed soon as the government co-ordinator for US ties. Reports this week have suggested talks on a “no spying” deal, launched after revelations last year that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored Dr Merkel’s mobile phone, are near collapse because Washington refuses to rule out eavesdropping on one of its closest post-war allies.

“2003 is generally seen as a lowpoint in German-American relations,” Mr Missfelder said, referring to the clash over former US president George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. “But if you look at the current situation the loss of trust is not smaller than it was then. Indeed it’s probably bigger because this issue is preoccupying people longer and more intensively than the invasion of Iraq.”

The comments, among the strongest from a senior German figure since leaks of a massive US spying programme first emerged last year, come a day before US president Barack Obama is expected to unveil reforms of the NSA.

Reuters reported last week that Mr Obama is unlikely to announce major changes to a programme which has collected masses of raw data on the telephone calls of Americans and bugged foreign leaders including Dr Merkel, who in 2011 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Mr Obama, America’s highest civilian honour.

“We can see that we are not seen as loyal friends anymore, rather we are confronted with a great deal of mistrust,” Mr Missfelder said. “I am not saying we are on a level with countries that are outside of Nato, but there has been a qualitative change, at least from the American side.”

If talks on the “no spying” agreement fail, Berlin should support suspending a deal clinched in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks that gives the United States access to SWIFT, a global financial database, he said. The European Parliament voted last year to suspend the SWIFT agreement over concerns the US was snooping on the database for financial gain, but the vote was symbolic and not binding.

Mr Missfelder listed three main German demands for the United States: an agreement not to spy on each other; the end to targeted bugging of politicians; and general agreement on how the US handles the bulk “metadata” it is collecting. He said he opposed holding a transatlantic free trade deal hostage to the spying talks, and described the United States as a “friend”.

But he added that there were “huge expectations” tied to an upcoming visit by Dr Merkel to the United States and spoke of disillusionment with Mr Obama, feted in Berlin last June on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. “A lot of people had big hopes. The hopes have been disappointed,” Mr Missfelder said.

Reuters