BERLIN – President Barack Obama told German television in an interview aired Saturday that he would not allow America’s massive communications surveillance capability to damage relations with Germany and other close U.S. allies.
Obama made the pledge in a rare interview with Germany’s ZDF television in an apparent step to repair the damage to America’s relations with Germany and other countries following reports that the U.S. National Security Agency had monitored communications of European citizens, even listening in on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
Merkel accused the U.S. of a grave breach of trust after reports about her cellphone emerged in October, and her government has been pressing for a “no spying” agreement with Washington since then. Her center-right party’s foreign policy spokesman, Philipp Missfelder, told reporters Thursday that revelations about U.S. spying in Germany had plunged relations with Washington to their lowest level in more than a decade.
During the 16-minute interview, Obama acknowledged the anger in Germany and elsewhere ignited by spy revelations following the leak of documents obtained by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden to news media. Obama said it would take time to restore trust, although he defended U.S. surveillance as necessary to protect the U.S. and its allies, including Germany.
Obama said that before the revelations he had forged a close working relationship with Merkel and that he could not allow U.S. surveillance operations to damage that trust.
“As long as I am president of the United States, the German chancellor need not worry about that,” Obama said, according to a simultaneous German translation as he spoke.