BERLIN — The leaders of Germany and France on Friday proposed the creation of new cooperation agreements between U.S. and European intelligence services, taking the first steps toward resolving a diplomatic crisis in the wake of reports alleging that the National Security Agency had monitored the phone conversations of more than 30 world leaders.
Saying that trust in the United States had been damaged, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged Friday that she and French President François Hollande would quickly forge new pacts that would expand guidelines for U.S. intelligence operations on European soil. She did not elaborate on her demands.
Merkel is planning to send the heads of Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies to the United States to discuss the issue on “relatively short notice,” a spokesman said Friday, an unusual measure that suggests Germany is pushing for a quick end to the diplomatic uproar and the domestic outrage accompanying it. He said the visit would aim to clarify past U.S. spying efforts on German soil.
France and Germany “individually will get in contact with the United States and the security community there and try to work out a framework for further cooperation,” Merkel said at a news conference in Brussels, where she was attending a European summit.
She did not give details and declined to say whether she was seeking an agreement along the lines of a mutual “no-spying” pact between United States, Britain and several other English-speaking countries.
“We need something clear-cut that is also in line with the spirit of an alliance,” Merkel said. She said she hopes to achieve an agreement by the end of the year.
Hollande echoed Merkel’s comments. “There are behaviors and practices that cannot be accepted,” he said. “What is in play is preserving our relationship with the United States.”
The extent of the potential damage to other cooperative efforts between the United States and Europe remained unclear Friday. Merkel said she did not think that complex negotiations over a U.S.-E.U. trade pact should be put on hold, as several top European officials had suggested Thursday.
But she expressed sympathy for an effort in the European Parliament to pause a program that gives U.S. intelligence agencies access to information about the financial transactions of suspected terrorists that is routed through the Brussels-based electronic banking system known as SWIFT.
In a statement Friday, the leaders of the 28 E.U. member nations said they “took note of the intention of France and Germany to 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.” Other E.U. countries “are welcome to join this initiative,” the statement said.
In Washington on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said no decision had been made on proposed talks with the European Union about surveillance.
“It is no secret that over the last few months a series — these unauthorized disclosures of classified information have, of course, led to criticisms of our intelligence activity by many of our friends and partners,” Psaki said. “It’s created significant challenges in our relationships with some of our partners and has been, of course, a public distraction, as we even saw over the last couple of days.”
She repeated the administration’s main defenses — that the activity is akin to intelligence gathering carried out by governments worldwide, that the information gleaned is often shared with friends to mutual benefit and that there is internal U.S. oversight over intelligence gathering.
“While our capabilities are unmatched, the U.S. government is not operating unrestrained,” Psaki said.
Meanwhile, Brazil and Germany have joined forces to press for the adoption of a U.N. general resolution that promotes the right of privacy on the Internet, marking the first major international effort to restrain the NSA’s intrusions into the online communications of foreigners, according to diplomatic officials familiar with the push.
Brazilian and German diplomats met in New York on Thursday with a small group of Latin American and European government officials to consider a draft resolution that calls for expanding the privacy rights spelled out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the online world. The draft does not refer to the flurry of revelations about U.S. spying that have caused the current furor, particularly in Brazil and Germany. But it was clear that those revelations provided the political momentum for Thursday’s move.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was written in 1966 and came into force in 1976, decades before the Internet transformed the way people around the world communicate. Article 17 of the covenant states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.” It also declares that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
“The covenant was formulated at a time when the Internet didn’t exist,” said a diplomat familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss confidential diplomatic negotiations. “Everyone has the right to privacy, and the goal of this resolution is to apply those protections to online communications.”
Brazil and Germany are expected to formally introduce the resolution early next week. The draft has not been made public and is subject to negotiation among U.N. member states.
“This is not just about spying,” the diplomat said, but also about ensuring the “privacy of citizens in their home states under their own home legislation.”
“It calls on countries to put an end to violations of that right,” the diplomat added. “People have to be protected offline and online.”
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.