US seeks to reassure France over spying, Assange urges legal action

24th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

President Barack Obama on Wednesday moved to defuse tensions after revelations of US spying on three French presidents angered France, while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called for legal action over Washington's snooping and promised more disclosures to come.

Obama spoke by phone with his French counterpart Francois Hollande to assure him the US was no longer spying on European leaders, a day after the WikiLeaks website published documents alleging Washington had eavesdropped on the French president and his two predecessors.

"President Obama reiterated without ambiguity his firm commitment... to stop these practices that took place in the past and which were unacceptable between allies," Hollande's office said in a statement after the call.

Hollande had earlier convened his top ministers and intelligence officials to discuss the revelations, with his office stating that France "will not tolerate any acts that threaten its security".

France's foreign minister also summoned the US ambassador for a formal explanation.

The documents -- labelled "Top Secret" and appearing to reveal spying on Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande between 2006 and 2012 -- were published by WikiLeaks along with French newspaper Liberation and the Mediapart website.

WikiLeaks' anti-secrecy campaigner Assange told French television on Wednesday evening that the time had come for legal action against Washington over its foreign surveillance activities.

Speaking on TF1, he urged France to go further than Germany by launching a "parliamentary inquiry" and referring "the matter to the prosecutor-general for prosecution".

German prosecutors had carried out a probe into alleged US tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, but later dropped the investigation due to a lack of hard evidence.

Assange also said other important revelations were coming.

"This is the beginning of a series and I believe the most important of the material is still to come," he said.

The WikiLeaks revelations were embarrassingly timed for French lawmakers, who late on Wednesday voted in favour of sweeping new powers to spy on citizens.

The new law will allow authorities to spy on the digital and mobile communications of anyone linked to a "terrorist" enquiry without prior authorisation from a judge, and forces internet service providers and phone companies to give up data upon request.

Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Washington's snooping actions "constitute a very serious violation of the spirit of trust" and France would demand a new "code of conduct" on intelligence matters.

The White House earlier responded that it was not targeting Hollande's communications and will not do so in the future, but it did not comment on past activities.

Claims that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on European leaders, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, had already led to promises from Obama that the practice had stopped.

- Secret meetings on Greece -

The leaked documents include five from the NSA, the most recent dated May 22, 2012, just days after Hollande took office.

It claims Hollande "approved holding secret meetings in Paris to discuss the eurozone crisis, particularly the consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone".

It also says the French president believed after talks with Merkel that she "had given up (on Greece) and was unwilling to budge".

"This made Hollande very worried for Greece and the Greek people, who might react by voting for an extremist party," according to the document.

Another document, dated 2008, was titled "Sarkozy sees himself as only one who can resolve the world financial crisis". It said the former French leader "blamed many of the current economic problems on mistakes made by the US government, but believes that Washington is now heeding some of his advice".

One leak describes Sarkozy's frustration at US espionage, saying the "main sticking point" in achieving greater intelligence cooperation "is the US desire to continue spying on France".

In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price insisted: "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."

France's ambassador to the US, Gerard Araud, appeared to downplay the revelations, saying on Twitter: "Every diplomat lives with the certainty that their communications are listened to, and not by just one country. Real world."

At the time of the Snowden leaks, British newspaper The Guardian reported that the NSA had listened in on the phone calls of 35 world leaders, including the leaders of France, Mexico and Brazil.

While it was not known then if Hollande's phone was bugged, the French leader had said on a visit in Washington in February 2014 that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.

"Mutual trust has been restored," Hollande said at the time.


© 2015 AFP

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