By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Wednesday that the United States has pledged not to spy on the world body’s communications after a report that the National Security Agency had gained access to the U.N. video conferencing system.
The United Nations contacted U.S. authorities after the spying revelations were made by German news magazine Der Spiegel in August, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“I understand that the U.S. authorities have given assurances that United Nations communications are not and will not be monitored,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Wednesday. Nesirky declined to comment further when asked if U.S. authorities had previously spied on U.N. communications.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, later on Wednesday confirmed Nesirky’s remarks. “The United States is not conducting electronic surveillance targeting the United Nations headquarters in New York,” the official said.
The United States has faced international criticism over its far-reaching global surveillance activities following Snowden’s disclosure of previously secret documents this year.
U.S. allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have protested over American spying on foreign heads of state.
Merkel’s top foreign affairs and intelligence advisers were in Washington on Wednesday to question American officials over U.S. spying in Germany. The White House said last week the United States “is not monitoring and will not monitor” Merkel’s communications, but did not deny that the chancellor may have been spied on in the past.
President Barack Obama recently ordered the NSA to curtail eavesdropping on the headquarters of the United Nations in New York as part of a review of U.S. electronic surveillance, an American official familiar with the decision told Reuters this week. The NSA declined to comment.
The full extent of U.S. eavesdropping on the United Nations is not publicly known, nor is it clear whether the United States has stopped all monitoring of diplomats assigned to the United Nations in New York or elsewhere around the world.
“The inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the United Nations, has been well established in international law, and therefore all member states are expected to act accordingly,” Nesirky said.
The 1961 Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations protects functions of the United Nations, diplomatic missions and other international organizations.