x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Intelligence controversy looms over beginning of European Union leaders’ summit in Belgium.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, steps out of her armoured car, at the European People’s Party summit in Belgium. Yves Logghe / AP Photo
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, steps out of her armoured car, at the European People’s Party summit in Belgium. Yves Logghe / AP Photo

BRUSSELS // The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said yesterday that trust between the US and its partners has to be restored after claims that American intelligence hacked her mobile phone.

Mrs Merkel insisted that there must be no “spying among friends.”

She complained to the US president, Barack Obama, in a phone call on Wednesday after receiving information her mobile phone may have been monitored.

The White House said the US was not monitoring and would not monitor Mrs Merkel’s communications – but didn’t address what might have happened in the past.

In her first public comments since news of the allegations emerged, Mrs Merkel said she told Mr Obama that “spying among friends cannot be.”

“We need trust among allies and partners,” she said as she arrived at a long-planned summit of the European Union’s 28 leaders.

“Such trust now has to be built anew. This is what we have to think about.”

She stressed that the US and Europe “face common challenges; we are allies.” But, she added, “such an alliance can only be built on trust”.

The foreign ministry in Berlin summoned the US ambassador to complain, while Germany’s defence minister said that Europe cannot simply return to business as usual in trans-Atlantic ties following a string of reports that the US was spying on its allies.

Mrs Merkel’s chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, said officials would make “unmistakably clear” to the US ambassador, John B Emerson, “that we expect all open questions to be answered”.

The US embassy said it had no comment.

Thomas de Maiziere, the German defence minister, was quoted as saying by ARD television that the alleged surveillance would be “really bad” if confirmed. “The Americans are and remain our best friends, but this is absolutely not right,” he said.

“I have reckoned for years that my cellphone was being monitored, but I wasn’t reckoning it was by the Americans,” said Mr de Maiziere, who was previously Mrs Merkel’s chief of staff and Germany’s interior minister.

“We can’t simply return to business as usual,” Mr de Maiziere said when asked about possible effects on US-German and US-European relations.

This week, France demanded an explanation of a report that the US swept up millions of French phone records, and also summoned its US ambassador.

Germany, which has Europe’s biggest economy, has been one of Washington’s closest allies in Europe. The US was West Germany’s protector during the Cold War and the country is still home to thousands of US troops.

A German parliamentary committee that oversees the country’s intelligence service held a meeting yesterday to discuss the matter.

Mr Pofalla said that the government received information from the news magazine Der Spiegel on the matter and then launched “extensive examinations” of the material. Der Spiegel has published material from the National Security Agency leaker, Edward Snowden, but did not detail its sources on the mobile phone story.

Recalling previous reports to the panel that US authorities have said they did not breach German interests, the committee head, Thomas Oppermann, said “we were apparently deceived by the American side”.

Mr Pofalla said he had ordered a review of previous statements received from the NSA.

* Associated Press