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EU leaders want U.S. answers on alleged spying

LONDON (MCT) — Distilling their anger over reports of U.S. spying on European citizens and governments including heads of state, European Union leaders issued a statement Friday calling for a meeting with the U.S. before the end of the year.

The statement by Herman van Rompuy, European Council president, summarized European leaders' discussions Thursday on allegations of National Security Agency monitoring of phone lines across Europe.

By Friday the outcry came from leaders across Europe, with France and Germany leading a call for direct talks with U.S. authorities. Both nations' heads of state are reported to be among 35 world leaders whose phone numbers are known to the NSA and whose phones were said to be tapped by the agency in recent leaked reports of U.S. government data.

Both countries now seek "bilateral talks with the USA with the aim of finding before the end of the year an understanding on mutual relations in that field. ... EU countries are welcome to join this initiative," said the statement, adding that a resulting "lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in ... intelligence gathering."

A further EU report summarizing the main points of Thursday's discussions stressed the importance of maintaining a transatlantic partnership. While European heads of state and government "underlined the value of that partnership," it said, "They expressed their conviction that the partnership must be based on respect and trust, including ... co-operation of secret services."

After the first of a two-day meeting in Brussels that European heads of state devoted chiefly to talks on the alleged U.S. espionage tactics, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was widespread concern across Europe, adding that the spying allegations could undermine U.S. relations with Europe.

"We informed each other about possible eavesdropping and expressed our concern as to what this meant for European citizens," said Merkel in her morning press conference. Acknowledging the need for intelligence work, the EU _ U.S. partnership should "rest on mutual trust, on mutual respect ... that includes the work of respective intelligence communities," she said. "Once the seeds of mistrust have been sewn, that doesn't facilitate our work and cooperation ... It makes it more difficult." That trust, she said, must now be rebuilt.

French President Francois Hollande was blunter, telling his press conference that "such practices cannot be accepted. Surveillance has been led by the American services ... that this can apply to all citizens including a number of European leaders, we need to put an end to it and we need some clarification."

Italian President Enrico Letta said on Thursday that he wanted the "whole truth....it's not minimally conceivable or acceptable that this kind of espionage activity can exist."

Fredrik Reinfeldt, Swedish prime minister, also declared eavesdropping on allies "completely unacceptable."

The latest reports from the documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper by whistleblower ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now living in exile in Russia, said the NSA had encouraged U.S. government offices to hand over their contacts for various governments around the world including the mobile phone numbers of 35 heads of state suggesting they had all been intercepted.

(c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Services

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