Germany asserts independence after U.S. warning on Huawei

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will define its own security standards for a new 5G mobile network, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday, after Washington said it would scale back data-sharing with Berlin if China’s Huawei was allowed to participate.

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Merkel’s conservatives chafed at what some saw as a threat by Washington, although Germany’s transatlantic coordinator emphasized that Berlin shared U.S. concerns about Huawei’s ability to meet high security standards for the new network.

The pushback is the latest incident in which U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell has faced criticism for his handling of U.S.-German disagreements over trade, a 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the Russian-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Grenell last week warned German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier in a letter that security concerns could throttle U.S. intelligence sharing with Berlin if Huawei got a role in Germany’s 5G next-generation mobile infrastructure.

Merkel told reporters the German government was keenly focused on security of digital networks, including the 5G mobile infrastructure, but Berlin would keep its own counsel.

“Security, particularly when it comes to the expansion of the 5G network, but also elsewhere in the digital area, is a very important concern for the German government, so we are defining our standards for ourselves,” Merkel said.

She said the German government would discuss its concerns with its partners in Europe, “as well as the appropriate offices in the United States.”

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Merkel’s transatlantic coordinator, Peter Beyer, cautioned against reading too much into the reaction to Grenell’s letter, noting that Berlin and Washington agreed on the underlying security issues.

“There are justified doubts about whether a company that is close to the Chinese government can credibly achieve these security standards, which are imperative for such highly sensitive applications,” he said in a statement.

Michael Grosse-Broemer, a conservative leader in parliament, said Germany was competent to address its own security, adding, “There is no need for pointers from the U.S. ambassador.”

Grosse-Broemer said if problems arose, Merkel could always speak directly with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for the conservatives, told Der Spiegel magazine there was no connection between the 5G licenses and U.S.-German intelligence sharing, which was well established and based on mutual interests.

Grenell sparked controversy in Germany when he warned German firms to start closing down their business operations in Iran.

His threat to slap sanctions on German firms involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline also proved counterproductive, shutting down potential critics of the project as German politicians are reluctant to be seen as bowing to U.S. pressure, experts said.

“Political smoothness is not his thing and he’s proud of that. You could say he was the most undiplomatic diplomat Washington ever had here,” said Ruediger Lentz, executive director the Aspen Institute Germany.

Additional reporting by Michelle Martin and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Riham Alkousaa and David Evans