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Germany's Merkel hopes for U.S. answers on spying

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) chat during at the Chralottenburg Castle in Berlin June 19, 2013. REUTER
U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) chat during at the Chralottenburg Castle in Berlin June 19, 2013. REUTER

By Roberta Rampton and Gernot Heller

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after a phone call with Barack Obama on Wednesday night that she believed the U.S. president took Germany's concern over reported U.S. spying very seriously, and she hoped coming talks would bring answers.

Obama sought to allay the anger in Germany and other European allies in his call with Merkel, during which the chancellor said she made clear to him spying was not what she expected from countries considered friends.

They agreed to high level bilateral talks, in addition to planned talks between the European Union and the United States, to investigate reports that Washington spied on European allies.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich will travel to the United States at the end of next week, a spokesman said.

The reports came to light amid the imbroglio over former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked details of surveillance activities by Washington. He is currently in limbo in a transit area of Moscow's airport as the United States pressures Moscow to expel him home.

"I want to see the facts established," Merkel said on Thursday during a press conference in Berlin. "I hope to gain information and draw important conclusions."

She added: "I made clear spying on institutions within the European Union is not how we would expect those we consider friends to treat us. We are no longer in the Cold War."

Her comments come at the same time as a poll, published by ARD-DeutschlandTrend, showing only 49 percent of Germans consider the Americans trustworthy partners in the wake of the row - a low not seen since the presidency of George W. Bush - and down from a previous level of 65 percent.

In a statement, the White House said Obama assured Merkel the United States took the concerns seriously and officials would discuss intelligence and privacy issues as early as July 8.

WITNESS PROTECTION?

Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SPD, said German authorities should quickly contact Snowden and consider giving him witness protection, German news magazine Spiegel said on Thursday.

Two days earlier, Germany's Foreign and Interior Ministries released a statement saying they had rejected Snowden's request for asylum, faxed to the German embassy in Moscow.

"The first step must be that the federal prosecutors office travels to Moscow to examine him as a witness," Gabriel was quoted as saying, adding if he was reliable Germany should consider whether to put him into a witness protection program.

The White House said Obama and Merkel reiterated their strong support for the launch of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, welcoming the soon-to-begin first round of discussions.

Obama promised on Monday to supply all the information requested by European allies on the allegations, which he said Washington was still evaluating.

"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 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 from sources that aren't available through the New York Times or NBC News," Obama said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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