Obama: Spying on nations’ allies common
President Obama brushed aside sharp European criticism yesterday, suggesting that all nations spy on each other as the French and Germans expressed outrage over alleged U.S. eavesdropping on European Union diplomats. American analyst-turned-leaker Edward Snowden, believed to still be at Moscow’s international airport, applied for political asylum to remain in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement he acknowledged sounded odd, told reporters in Moscow that Snowden would have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wanted asylum in Russia – and he added that Snowden seemed unwilling to stop publishing leaks of classified material. At the same time, Putin said that he had no plans to turn over Snowden to the United States.
A statement purportedly by Snowden and posted yesterday on the Wikileaks website criticized Obama for “using citizenship as a weapon.” The statement could not be independently authenticated as being from Snowden himself. Wikileaks is the anti-secrecy group that has adopted Snowden and his cause.
Obama, in an African news conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, said the U.S. would provide allies with information about new reports that the National Security Agency had bugged EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels. But he also suggested such activity by governments would hardly be unusual.
“We should stipulate that every intelligence service – not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there’s an intelligence service – here’s one thing that they’re going to be doing: They’re going to be trying to understand the world better, and what’s going on in world capitals around the world,” he said. “If that weren’t the case, then there’d be no use for an intelligence service.”
The latest issue concerns allegations of U.S. spying on European officials in the German news weekly Der Spiegel. French President Francois Hollande yesterday demanded that the U.S. immediately stop any such eavesdropping and suggested the widening controversy could jeopardize next week’s opening of trans-Atlantic trade talks between the United States and Europe.
“We cannot accept this kind of behavior from partners and allies,” Hollande said on French television.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin, “Eavesdropping on friends is unacceptable.” He declared, “We’re not in the Cold War anymore.”
Even before the latest disclosures, talks at the upcoming free-trade sessions were expected to be fragile, with disagreements surfacing over which items should be covered or excluded from an agreement. The United States has said there should be no exceptions. But France has called for exempting certain cultural products, and other Europeans do not appear eager to give up longtime agricultural subsidies.