January 17, 2014 / 7:41 PM / 6 years ago

Germany welcomes Obama ban on spying on leaders of U.S. allies

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany welcomed a promise by U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday to ban eavesdropping on leaders of close allies after ties were frayed last year by reports that the United States monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

Berlin also said it would keep pushing for a sweeping “no-spy” accord with Washington, far beyond just Merkel, following the reports of secret surveillance of her phone by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

“The German government will closely analyze the announcements made by the U.S. President,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told Reuters, saying that many Germans were rightly concerned about the security of their private data.

“The German government fundamentally welcomes that data protection and rights of non-U.S. citizens will be respected more closely in the future,” Seibert said.

In his speech, Obama banned U.S. eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies, and began reining in the vast collection of Americans’ phone data in a series of reforms triggered by Edward Snowden’s revelations.

Obama took steps to reassure Americans and foreigners alike that the United States will take into account privacy concerns that arose after former U.S. spy contractor Snowden’s disclosures about the sweep of the NSA’s monitoring activities.

The step was designed to smooth over frayed relations between, for example, the United States and Germany.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also welcomed Obama’s speech.

“President Obama sketched out a process today to limit and control the American intelligence agencies that will involve the Congress and public,” Steinmeier said. “We welcome that because it creates a basis for a broader public discussion in the United States that has already started.”

Merkel’s spokesman Seibert added that continued cooperation between German and U.S. intelligence agencies was in their mutual interest even though he said the data and privacy rights of German citizens have to be safeguarded.

“The German government still believes that German law must be respected on German soil, especially by our closest partners and allies,” Seibert said. “In light of today’s speech, we’ll continue the talks about finding a new basis for the cooperation of our intelligence agencies.”

Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Wednesday those talks were close to collapse because U.S. officials refused to promise Washington will refrain from eavesdropping on German ministers or other top government officials.

Additional reporting by Noah Barkin

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