US 'willing to talk' to Germany in latest spy dispute
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will hold talks with his US counterpart, John Kerry, on the new spy dispute in the coming days, the US State Department has said.
Germany on Thursday (10 July) told a senior representative of the US intelligence service, the CIA, to leave the country - a move one step short of a full expulsion.
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The decision comes after two German officials - one from the German intelligence service BND and one in the defence ministry - were put under investigation for spying and selling secrets to the US intelligence services.
The CIA official invited to leave Germany is reportedly the key contact of the two double agents.
"We have so many problems, we should focus on the essentials. Spying on allies is such a waste of energy," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told press the same day in Berlin.
Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, confirmed the German government's decision in an official statement: "The government takes these activities very seriously. It is essential and in the interest of the security of its citizens and its forces abroad for Germany to collaborate closely and trustfully with its western partners, especially the US."
He added: “But mutual trust and openness is necessary. The government is still prepared to do so and expects the same of its closest partners”.
The CIA official’s eviction is the first retaliatory step from the German authorities in an ongoing affair which began last year with revelations by US whistleblower Edward Snowden that Merkel's phone was tapped and that the personal communications of millions of Germans are subject to surveillance by the US’ National Security Agency.
Clemens Binninger, a member of Merkel's party who chairs an intelligence oversight committee, said the action came in response to America's "failure to co-operate on resolving various allegations, starting with the NSA and up to the latest incidents".
There are few precedents for such measures among fellow Nato countries, but France in 1995 also sent home several US officials for spying.
The White House declined to comment.
"Any sort of comment on any reported intelligence acts would put at risk US assets, US personnel and the United States national security," its press secretary, Josh Earnest, noted.
"We do continue to be in touch with the Germans at a variety of levels, including through law enforcement, diplomatic and even intelligence channels," he added.
But a top Republican on the Senate’s intelligence committee, Saxby Chambliss, said the CIA is "concerned” about the German move.
"It's unusual for our station chief to be sent home by the host country”, he noted, the Wall Street Journal reports.