Washington/PARIS - France summoned the U.S. ambassador on Wednesday to explain allegations by transparency lobby group WikiLeaks of what President Francois Hollande branded ‘unacceptable’ spying on successive French leaders.
The latest revelations of espionage among Western allies come after it emerged the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on Germany and that Germany’s own BND intelligence agency had cooperated with the NSA to spy on officials and companies elsewhere in Europe. Hollande held an emergency meeting of his ministers and army commanders after revelations the NSA had spied on the last three French presidents. Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said a senior French intelligence official would be dispatched to the United States to confirm the spying is over.
‘France will not tolerate actions that threaten its security and the protection of its interests,’ a statement from the president’s office said, adding it was not the first time that allegations of U.S. spying on French interests had surfaced. ‘Commitments were made by the U.S. authorities. They need to be recalled and strictly respected.’
The French Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador. After meeting Hollande, lawmakers told reporters the French leader had informed them he would speak with President Barack Obama later in the day. A statement from the U.S. National Security Council said it was not targeting and would not target Hollande’s communications but did not say whether spying had taken place in the past.
‘We have to verify this spying has finished,’ Le Foll told reporters, adding that ministers were told to be careful when speaking on their mobile phones. ‘Between allies this is unacceptable and incomprehensible. France does not spy on its allies.’ While Paris and Washington have good ties in general, U.N. Security Council veto-holder France fiercely maintains its independence on foreign policy and over the last two years there have been moments of friction and irritation on both sides.
Hollande was disappointed by Obama’s last-minute decision not to strike Syrian government positions in 2013. U.S. officials have frequently, in private, lambasted France’s tough stance in talks over Iran’s nuclear programme. The revelations were first reported by French daily Liberation and on news website Mediapart, which said the NSA spied on presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande during the period of at least 2006 until May 2012.
Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said: ‘We do not comment on the veracity or content of leaked documents’. US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price also declined to comment, but added: ‘As a general matter, we do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike.’
The French newspaper Liberation and the investigative website Mediapart reprinted documents that go back to 2006, when George W. Bush served as president. Previous disclosures of U.S. National Security Agency intelligence-gathering activities have triggered diplomatic rifts with other countries, including Germany and Brazil.
The most recent French document, from May of 2012, disclosed Hollande’s concern that Greece might leave the European Union, and leave behind economic damage. ‘The French president seems worried that if word were to get out that Paris is seriously considering the possibility of a Greek exit, it would deepen the crisis,’ the document said.
The report also said that Hollande expressed disappointment over his talks with German Chancellor Merkel, and sought secret meetings with minority members of her governing coalition. Hollande has said that he has discussed his concerns about NSA surveillance with US President Barack Obama.
A document from June 2011 cited an effort by Hollande’s predecessor, Sarkozy, to ‘go forward with an initiative to restart direct Mideast peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.’ A report from 2008, during the Bush presidency, said Sarkozy ‘considers it his responsibility to Europe and the world to step up to the plate and resolve the world financial crisis.’ It added that the French president ‘blamed many of the current economic problems on mistakes made by the U.S. Government, but believes that Washington is now heeding some of his advice.’ The oldest document, from 2006, details Chirac’s efforts to secure a major U.N. appointment for an ally.