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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Indignation in Europe Over Claims That U.S. Spied on Merkel’s Phone

The revelation that the United States may have monitored the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was greeted in Europe with a mix of righteous indignation and questions as to which leader’s cellphone could be next.

Mrs. Merkel called President Obama on Wednesday to demand an immediate clarification after Der Spiegel magazine notified Germany’s intelligence services that her phone may have been bugged. The magazine had reportedly discovered a U.S. document with Mrs. Merkel’s telephone number on it.

In a statement bereft of the usual German diplomatic equanimity, Mrs. Merkel’s spokesman said Mrs. Merkel had told Mr. Obama that if such surveillance had taken place, it would represent a “grave breach of trust between allies.”

The White House said Mr. Obama assured the chancellor that the eavesdropping had not taken place, but Germany on Thursday summoned the American ambassador over the claims.

Mr. Obama’s assurances did little to calm tempers in Germany, where the United States helped tutor Germany in the ways of democracy after the Cold War and snooping by East German secret police remains a visceral memory.

The evidence that the United States was spying on key allies and its citizens - harvested from documents by the former National Security contractor Edward J. Snowden - was deemed as being no less than monstrous.

‘‘A greater affront by a friendly state is hardly conceivable,’’ wrote the Berlin-based editorialist Robert Rossman in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, likening the targeting of Mrs. Merkel’s personal phone as ‘‘an attack on her political heart.’’

Other German newspapers said the phone-tapping scandal could have far-reaching consequences for trans-Atlantic relations. ‘‘If leaders are targeted, it’s probably not by accident, but systematic and out of principle,’’ said an editorial in Die Welt. “The impact of the NSA’s eavesdropping on Mrs. Merkel has a tremendous political impact, which could trigger a dramatic shift of the tectonic plates on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The recriminations over the hacking allegations were already being felt in Brussels, where on Thursday a European Union summit dealing with immigration issues and the economy was expected to be overshadowed by the spying accusations.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted to suspend a data-sharing agreement with the United States aimed at unearthing the financing of terrorists. The resolution, which needs approval by the European Union’s member states to be implemented, underlined the growing ire of the parliament, which has already illustrated its contempt for Washington’s snooping by nominating Mr. Snowden for its top human rights prize.

In France, where Le Monde reported this week that the National Security Agency had scooped up 70 million digital communications of French citizens in a single month, anger over spying by a key ally appeared to be gathering force. France has already summoned the United States ambassador, Charles H. Rivkin, and an incensed President François Hollande expressed “extreme reprobation.”

Le Figaro, the French daily, noted that the Merkel revelations had not suddenly exposed the American spying program. But it said that the apparent ensnarement of the leader of Europe’s biggest economy in the American surveillance scheme had taken the scandal to a whole new level.

“With Angela Merkel personally affected, the scandal takes on spectacular proportions,” it said.

Britain’s Independent newspaper cautioned that trust between the United States and a key ally like Germany had been fractured. The mere fact that “a German chancellor should even make such an inquiry of an American president is remarkable and serves to illustrate how far trust has broken down between the two nations.”

In Italy, Prime Minister Enrico Letta raised the issue of surveillance with Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit to Italy on Wednesday. Mr. Kerry’s trip came as the Italian press reported that the United States has intercepted phone calls, text messages and emails of Italian citizens.

But not everyone was scandalized, or even surprised, that the United States could have targeted a powerful leader and important friend. One reader on Le Figaro’s Web site noted that the United States was merely doing what everyone does.