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Spying plunges U.S.-German ties lower than Iraq war: Merkel ally

A mobile phone simulating a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and computer with a series of numbers is seen in this multiple exposure
A mobile phone simulating a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and computer with a series of numbers is seen in this multiple exposure

By Noah Barkin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Relations between Germany and the United States are worse now than during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a decade ago, a leading ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, in a sign of mounting anger in Berlin over American spying tactics.

Philipp Missfelder, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament, said Berlin should bar U.S. access to a database of international financial transactions unless Washington promises to stop spying in Germany. The lawmaker is expected to be confirmed soon as the government coordinator for U.S. ties.

Reports this week have suggested talks on a "no spying" deal, launched after revelations last year that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored Merkel's mobile phone, are near collapse because Washington refuses to rule out eavesdropping on one of its closest post-war allies.

"2003 is generally seen as a lowpoint in German-American relations," Missfelder said, referring to the clash over former U.S. President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.

"But if you look at the current situation the loss of trust is not smaller than it was then. Indeed it's probably bigger because this issue is preoccupying people longer and more intensively than the invasion of Iraq."

The comments, among the strongest from a senior German figure since leaks of a massive U.S. spying program first emerged last year, come a day before U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to unveil reforms of the NSA.

Reuters reported last week that Obama is unlikely to announce major changes to a program which has collected masses of raw data on the telephone calls of Americans and bugged foreign leaders including Merkel, who in 2011 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama, America's highest civilian honor.

"We can see that we are not seen as loyal friends anymore, rather we are confronted with a great deal of mistrust," Missfelder said. "I am not saying we are on a level with countries that are outside of NATO, but there has been a qualitative change, at least from the American side."

If talks on the "no spying" agreement fail, Berlin should support suspending a deal clinched in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks that gives the United States access to SWIFT, a global financial database, he said.

The European Parliament voted last year to suspend the SWIFT agreement over concerns the U.S. was snooping on the database for financial gain, but the vote was symbolic and not binding.

Missfelder listed three main German demands for the United States: an agreement not to spy on each other; the end to targeted bugging of politicians; and general agreement on how the U.S. handles the bulk "metadata" it is collecting.

He said he opposed holding a transatlantic free trade deal hostage to the spying talks, and described the United States as a "friend".

But he added that there were "huge expectations" tied to an upcoming visit by Merkel to the United States and spoke of disillusionment with Obama, feted in Berlin last June on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

"A lot of people had big hopes. The hopes have been disappointed," Missfelder said.

(Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Peter Grafff)

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