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German ex-chancellor Schroeder accuses U.S. of disrespect over spying

BERLIN (Reuters) - Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder accused the United States of showing “no respect” for Germany’s sovereignty after a newspaper reported on Wednesday the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had bugged his phone from at least 2002.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder delivers his speech as he supports Social Democratic top candidate Peer Steinbrueck (SPD) (not pictured) during an election campaign in Hanover, August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Reports last year about mass U.S. surveillance in Germany, in particular of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, shocked Germans and sparked the most serious row between the transatlantic allies in a decade.

“The United States has no respect for a loyal ally and for the sovereignty of our country,” Schroeder was quoted as saying by Bild daily. “That countries spy on each other is certainly not a new experience. But to spy on the telephone of a chancellor is clearly a step too far.”

Since the first reports of spying last year, it has been widely suspected in Germany that the NSA had bugged governments preceding Merkel’s. But the report by Sueddeutsche daily on Wednesday, which it sourced to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was the first concrete report that offers evidence.

Sueddeutsche also cited U.S. government sources and NSA insiders as saying the reason for the snooping on Social Democrat (SPD) Schroeder was his opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq under then President George W. Bush.

“We had reason to believe that (Schroeder) was not contributing to the success of the alliance,” the newspaper quoted one person with knowledge of the monitoring as saying.

Schroeder, who headed a coalition with the Greens between 1998 and 2005, said the United States should have respected Germany’s opposition to the Iraq invasion, after it had shown “a high degree of solidarity” with respect to Afghanistan.

Germans are especially sensitive about snooping due to their experiences in the Nazi era and in Communist East Germany during the Cold War when the Stasi secret police built up a massive network of surveillance.

Merkel said last week that Berlin and Washington were still “far apart” in their views on the NSA’s surveillance of Germany but that they remained close allies. Berlin has been pushing, so far in vain, for a ‘no-spy’ deal with Washington.

“Even if it’s not easy with the Americans, we must continue to push for an international agreement,” German Justice Minister Heiko Maas was quoted by Spiegel Online as saying.

“We should not leave any stone unturned in trying to protect better the data of people in Germany.”

Maas said the NSA used the pretext of security to collect data unchecked. “Listening to chancellors’ mobile phones does not help, at any rate, to protect from terror attacks.”

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Susan Fenton