(CNSNews.com) – For the second time in three days, President Obama spoke Wednesday to a European ally angered by reports of U.S. sur- veillance of their communications – only this time the alleged target was the leader’s personal cellphone calls.
The phone conversation between Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel came a day before European Union leaders are due to hold a summit in Brussels where concerns about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance are expected to feature.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president assured Merkel that the U.S. “is not monitoring and will not monitor” her communications.
Carney did not deny that it had done so at any previous time, however, a point quickly picked up by some media outlets in Europe and elsewhere.
“The language used by Mr. Carney leaves open the possibility that such monitoring could have taken place in the past,” said the French newspaper Le Monde, whose reporting earlier this week on alleged NSA recording of French phone data prompted a phone conversation on the issue between Obama and French President Francois Hollande.
“The president promised his German counterpart that U.S. intelligence ‘is not monitoring and will not monitor’ her communications but the White House did not explicitly rule out the possibility she had been bugged in the past,” reported Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
Politico’s noted on one of its Twitter accounts that Carney “spoke in the present and future tenses” while a Washington correspondent for The Guardian in a tweet called it a “non-denial denial.”
Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine which says its research triggered Merkel’s call to the White House, said it had received a similar response from a National Security Council spokeswoman, who used the same wording as Carney but “did not wish to specify whether this statement applied to the past.”
The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle also said Carney “did not say whether she had been spied on in the past.”
It said although German and U.S. intelligence agencies cooperate closely “the issue of data protection is a particularly sensitive one in Germany, due in part to memories of surveillance and repression by the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany and the Gestapo under the Nazi regime.”
Merkel grew up in East Germany, which was under a communist regime from the late 1940s until 1990, when the country was reunited.
In a statement the chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Merkel had told Obama in the phone conversation that she “unequivocally disapproves of such practices, should they be confirmed, and regards them as completely unacceptable.”
“Among close friends and partners, as the Federal Republic of Germany and the U.S. have been for decades, there should be no such monitoring of communications of a government,” the statement said. “This would be a serious breach of trust. Such practices must be prevented immediately.”
Seibert said Merkel had also pointed out that Germany is awaiting answers to questions put to the U.S. authorities months ago about “the possible overall scope of such monitoring practices against Germany.”
“As a close ally of the United States of America, the federal government expects a clear contractual basis on the activities of the [intelligence] services and their cooperation for the future.”
Those earlier complaints, like others that have prompted protests from France, the E.U., Brazil and Mexico, arose from information passed to media outlets by the former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Moscow.
Some European authorities have launched investigations into whether NSA surveillance has violated laws aimed at protecting their countries’ citizens.
In his statement on the Obama-Merkel phone call Carney said the U.S. “greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges.”
“As the president has said, the United States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” he added.
“Both leaders agreed to intensify further the cooperation between our intelligence services with the goal of protecting the security of both countries and of our partners, as well as protecting the privacy of our citizens.”
In a statement issued before the German reports and responding to the earlier French ones, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said “we have repeatedly made it clear that the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
“The U.S. collects intelligence to protect the nation, its interests, and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Clapper said the reports published in Le Monde on Monday “contain inaccurate and misleading information.”