BERLIN – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that relations with Germany have gone through a “rough patch” recently because of revelations about NSA spying, but insisted that the two countries can put the episode behind them.
Among the reports to come out of documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last year were allegations that the National Security Agency for years targeted the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Kerry stopped in Berlin on his way to a security conference in Munich to discuss the spying issue personally with Merkel and her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“It’s no secret,” said Kerry after meeting with Steinmeier. “We’ve been through a rough period in the last months. But I’m pleased to be here to direct our focus toward the future and to strengthen the trust and confidence that has always characterized this relationship.”
Appearing before reporters shortly afterward alongside Merkel, Kerry described the discord between Berlin and Washington as “bumps in the road” that could be resolved. But he gave no indication that the U.S. would sign a “no spy” accord that Germany wants, much less apologize for its past actions.
Echoing the Obama administration’s previous line, Kerry said the threat of terrorism requires new intelligence gathering methods, and that these help protect U.S. allies, too.
Merkel said she was optimistic a solution would be found.
While the German government has tried to prevent the issue from boiling over, opposition politicians and media commentators have urged Merkel to take a tougher line against Washington.
A poll released Friday by the German television station ZDF indicates that many Germans believe relations with the United States have worsened dramatically since the Snowden leaks.
Fifty-seven per cent of Germans believe relations are good, down from 92 per cent in October 2012, according to a random telephone survey of 1,208 German voters conducted Jan. 28-30. The same poll found that only 5 per cent of Germans believe President Barack Obama’s pledge to stop eavesdropping on foreign leaders.
The poll’s margin of error was about plus or minus 3 percentage points.
On Thursday, two people closely involved in the release of Snowden’s documents to the media said they felt safer living in Berlin because of the strong reaction in Germany against the NSA’s alleged spying operations.
American filmmaker Laura Poitras — one of the few people to receive all of Snowden’s files — told an audience at the annual transmediale art and media festival that she was regularly subjected to intimidating checks when crossing U.S. borders, even before Snowden first contacted her.
Berlin, by contrast, “has felt like a safe place to work,” she said.
Jacob Appelbaum, a cyber-security expert who has also drawn on the Snowden files to illustrate some of the ways in which the NSA’s allegedly can tap into computers, said he, too, has been subjected to searches when crossing borders that he believes were due to his work.
“I’ve experienced some things in European airports, always at the request of the U.S. government, although it has not yet happened in Germany,” he told a packed auditorium at Berlin’s House of the Cultures of the World. The venue is about 300 metres (1,000 feet) from Merkel’s offices.
The transmediale festival lists among its supporters the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.
Frank Jordans can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter