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With trade talks in limbo, Obama works to ease Merkel’s spying concerns

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2013

With a free-trade deal imperiled by Europeans' concerns over U.S. surveillance, President Obama assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday that his administration is working hard to address their complaints.

"The president assured the chancellor that the United States takes seriously the concerns of our European allies and partners," the White House said after a phone call between the two leaders.

At a meeting of European leaders in Berlin on Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande insisted that trade talks with the U.S. can start only "at the same time, at the same date" as talks with the U.S. on concerns over its intelligence activities. Many Europeans were outraged over revelations that the National Security Agency was collecting data about European Internet and phone users as part of anti-terrorism monitoring and later reports about its spying on European leaders.

The demands by Mr. Hollande raised questions as to whether the the trade talks would go ahead as originally scheduled early next week. France called earlier Wednesday for a two-week delay. The head of the European Union's executive commission said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has offered to set up "as soon as possible" U.S.-European working groups on intelligence issues.

The White House said Mr. Obama and Mrs. Merkel "agreed to hold a high-level meeting of U.S. and German security officials in the coming days to discuss these matters in greater detail."

"They also looked forward to the initiation of a [U.S.-EU] dialogue on the collection and oversight of intelligence and questions of privacy and data protection, as proposed by Attorney General Eric Holder, as early as July 8," the White House said. "Finally, the leaders reiterated their strong support for the launch of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations and welcomed the upcoming first round of discussions."

The president and the German leader also "reaffirmed the importance of continued close cooperation between our respective intelligence services in the fight against terrorism and other threats to the security of the United States, Germany, and our allies."

Mrs. Merkel also expressed condolences to Mr. Obama for the deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona earlier this week.

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