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White House refuses to say whether US spied on Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to the press on October 24, 2013 upon her arrival to attend a European Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to the press on October 24, 2013 upon her arrival to attend a European Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels

The United States refused to say Thursday whether it had ever spied on Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite growing German anger over its evasive answers over the alleged tapping of her mobile phone.

The White House has been on tricky political ground since saying when the claims first surfaced on Wednesday that it is not, and will not monitor Merkel's communications.

President Barack Obama's spokesman Jay Carney was repeatedly asked whether Washington had listened in on Merkel in the past, and could not provide the straight answer German leaders are demanding.

"We are not going to comment publicly on every specified alleged intelligence activity," Carney said Thursday.

"What I can't do and won't do is answer every allegation that appears in print about intelligence activities that have been engaged in or may not have been engaged in by the United States," he said.

"The path that leads us down is not one that we can travel."

US officials habitually refuse to discuss intelligence issues and espionage allegations as a matter of policy.

Merkel had earlier publicly complained that "spying between friends" should not be done, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after summoning the US ambassador to Berlin to his office that "we need the truth now."

Carney's prolonged period on the hot seat in his daily briefing also included a gentle assertion that all nations spy on others, even as he took pains to empathize with German anger.

"We acknowledge that the United States gathers intelligence much as other nations gather foreign intelligence," Carney said.

He also said that Washington understood that the allegations, carried in Der Spiegel magazine and based on leaks by fugitive US analyst Edward Snowden, had the potential to complicate relations with US foreign partners.

"The revelations that have appeared of late have obviously caused tensions in our relationships with some countries, and we are dealing with that set of issues through diplomatic channels," Carney said.

On Wednesday, Obama personally assured Merkel in a telephone call that the United States was not currently spying on her, and would not do so in the future.

The White House did not divulge whether Obama had privately given Merkel, who he considers a friend and valued partner, details of National Security Agency operations.

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