LASK, Poland (Reuters) - European concerns about alleged electronic eavesdropping by U.S. intelligence should not be allowed to cloud trade talks next week between the United States and the European Union, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday.
Speaking during a visit to NATO ally Poland, Kerry also praised his host’s plans to boost defense spending and said Washington would strongly back U.S. firms’ bids for contracts.
Kerry’s trip to Europe comes shortly before U.S. and European negotiators are scheduled to start a second round of week-long talks on November 11 in Brussels to try to hammer out what would be the world’s biggest free-trade deal.
“This is a trade partnership. It has the ability to lift all of our countries,” Kerry said. “(It) is really separate from any other issues that people may have on their minds.”
European governments have asked Washington for explanations after newspapers published allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the mobile phones of senior officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany, France and Spain have been particularly upset by the claims of U.S. mass surveillance of their communications.
Kerry said the proposed free trade deal would create the most powerful marketplace on the face of the planet.
“Together that can have a profound positive impact to our people, it will put millions of people to work, create new jobs, more opportunities and it is worth pushing for,” Kerry said.
“Now that should not be confused with whatever legitimate questions exist with respect to NSA or other issues. We want to hear from our allies, we want to have this conversation.”
Referring to the role of intelligence agencies in both Europe and the United States in protecting citizens from threats to their security, Kerry said: “We’re all in this together.”
Kerry, speaking to reporters in Warsaw alongside Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, said the U.S. military’s plans to set up missile defense facilities in eastern Europe, including Poland, remained on track.
A missile defense plan drawn up by a previous U.S. administration angered Russia, prompting U.S. President Barack Obama to reduce the scope of the deployment. After that, Poland sought reassurances that Washington would not back out entirely.
“Obviously we will fulfill our obligations and work together with the government of Poland with respect to the deployment,” Kerry said.
Kerry also said U.S. companies, with government support, would compete vigorously to win major defense contracts being put out to tender by Poland.
Poland is the only NATO member which is increasing spending on military equipment. It plans to spend about $45 billion over the next decade on upgrading its armed forces.
That has attracted interest from European and U.S. defense manufacturers whose order books have been affected by cuts in defense spending elsewhere.
From Warsaw, Kerry flew to an air force base at Lask, about 160 km (100 miles) west of the Polish capital and site of the first permanent U.S. military presence in Poland.
Standing beside the Polish defense minister and dwarfed by two F-16 fighter jets, Kerry said Poland’s proposed defense investment underscored its commitment to peace and security “and is sending a powerful message to all NATO members”.
Making a strong pitch for a share of the Polish defense spending, Kerry added: “The United States believe deeply in the quality of the equipment that is behind me, the F-16s and other equipment that we produce.”
Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig; Writing by Christian Lowe, Editing by Gareth Jones