Obama Invites Merkel to Washington After Spying Row
United States President Barack Obama invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington on Wednesday, hoping to mend fences after a row provoked by revelations of U.S. eavesdropping on her cellphone, AFP reports.
Obama called Merkel to wish her a speedy recovery after her recent skiing injury and invited her to visit at a "mutually agreeable time in the coming months," the White House said in a statement quoted by the news agency.
Merkel reacted furiously towards the end of 2013 to revelations that the National Security Agency had been listening in on her mobile, telling Obama in October that this would be a "breach of trust" between two allies.
Media reports of American snooping based on documents leaked by fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have damaged U.S. relations with key allies and were a political and personal embarrassment for Obama.
Washington never confirmed that the eavesdropping had taken place, but implicitly gave credence to the reports by the careful formulation of its response to questions from reporters.
The White House said that American spies were not currently monitoring Merkel's phone and would not do so in the future, but would not comment on past surveillance activity.
The invitation to Merkel comes as the White House tries to draw a line under the Snowden issue, with Obama poised to give a speech to Americans this month detailing how the NSA's massive phone and data collection activities will be reformed.
Ostensibly, Obama called Merkel, with whom he had a close relationship prior to the Snowden revelations, to check on her health after she fractured her pelvis while skiing.
"The president spoke to Chancellor Merkel today to wish her a speedy recovery following her injury and to congratulate her on the formation of her new cabinet," the statement said, according to AFP.
"The leaders noted the full agenda for 2014, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiations and NATO Summit, and looked forward to working closely together to advance our shared interests."
The White House would not say whether Obama and Merkel had discussed the NSA phone tapping allegations in their telephone call.
Merkel's office confirmed in a statement that she would accept Obama's invitation to visit the United States, but like the White House, did not offer a date.
The discomfort between Obama and Merkel over the NSA allegations is all the more notable because he has privately confided she is one of the foreign leaders whom he most respects.
Washington's relations with other allies and governments have also been hampered by the NSA reports, including with leaders of Brazil and Mexico, and there has been widespread disquiet in Europe over the scope of NSA data mining and phone data sweeps.
Recently leaked Snowden documents also showed that the U.S. had been monitoring the email traffic of Israeli officials, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist from the British Guardian who published some of the Snowden documents, told Channel 10 News this week that there are additional leaked documents, unpublished as of yet, relating to Israel.