WASHINGTON (AP) — Working to stem the fraying of ties with a key European ally, President Barack Obama dispatched his chief of staff to Berlin, a diplomatic gesture reflecting Germany’s growing indignation about allegations of American spying on its soil.
Chief of staff Denis McDonough and Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, are both in the German capital for meetings with their counterparts, with intelligence and security matters on the agenda. The White House said the two nations have agreed to set up an ongoing dialogue to address spying concerns on both sides.
The espionage dispute reached a new low earlier this month when Germany demanded that the CIA station chief in Berlin leave the country, a response provoked by published accounts alleging that U.S. intelligence recruited two German government employees to spy for Washington. The allegations follow last year’s revelations that the National Security Agency was conducting mass surveillance of Germans and eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
The fresh strains in the U.S.-German relationship come as the United States is seeking to project a united front with Europe in pressing Russia to stop fomenting unrest in Ukraine. The reluctance of Germany and other nations to impose tougher sanctions that could ricochet on their own economies has created a diplomatic split. The U.S. is also working with Germany and other world powers to seek a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest wouldn’t say whether Obama’s aides brought any answers or specific information to Berlin to try to pacify the concerns of the counterparts. He downplayed the notion that the “strategic dialogue” marked a new channel in U.S.-German discussions, arguing that security cooperation between the two NATO allies remains close.
“It’s in the interests of both sides to ensure that those channels remain open,” Earnest said. “They do.”
Washington has dismissed the idea of a “no-spy” agreement demanded by Germany has refused to address the substance of the allegations publicly. The White House has said it’s better to address those concerns in private and has generally brushed off the matter as standard intelligence operations.
That approach has done little to quell the fury in Germany, a country that prizes the sanctity of personal information and bears deep suspicion of government intrusion, given its history of abuses in the Nazi era and in communist East Germany. Merkel, in her first lengthy news conference since the two most recent spy cases came to light, said last week that she and Obama have different positions on what’s needed to guarantee security and also protect privacy.
“Trust can only be restored through talks and certain agreements,” Merkel said.