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Will Spying Tank U.S.-Europe Relationship?


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

European leaders are meeting in Belgium today and they're fuming over revelations that the U.S. has spied on some of its closest allies. The Guardian newspaper cites documents from the leaker Edward Snowden, saying the U.S. eavesdropped on 35 world leaders.

As NPR's Ari Shapiro says, the White House is now trying hard to blunt the damage from these reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: When President Obama first took office he said one of his top priorities was rebuilding relationships with allies in Europe.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In recent years, we've allowed our alliance to drift.

SHAPIRO: This was Strasbourg four years ago.

OBAMA: Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you, to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive.

SHAPIRO: Initially the courtship work, says International Relations Professor Chris Brown from the London School of Economics.

CHRIS BROWN: You could see this in all sorts of ways. I mean one obvious way would be the award of the Nobel Prize before he's actually done anything for peace.

SHAPIRO: But it didn't take long for Obama's sheen to dim when viewed from across the Atlantic. The president often said his primary focus was Asia, not Europe. And relationships worsened in a series of foreign crises, most recently Obama's back-and-forth over whether to strike Syria.

Mark Leonard directs the European Council on Foreign Relations.

MARK LEONARD: He has had some difficult run-ins with the (unintelligible) with lots of European countries. So on Syria, for example, the French president really did feel like he was hung out to dry by the vacillations in American policy.

SHAPIRO: And now the spying revelations appear to be the biggest blow to the alliance since President Obama took office. French President Francoise Hollande complained to the White House this week, after reports that the National Security Agency intercepted millions of calls and text messages from French people. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to President Obama personally after reports that the NSA eavesdropped on her cell phone.

At a meeting of European leaders in Brussels this morning, Merkel said through an interpreter: The incident has severely shaken relations with the U.S.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through translator) This is not about me. It's about every citizen. We need to have trust in our allies and partners. And this trust now has to be rebuilt.

BROWN: There's a certain amount of posturing going on here.

SHAPIRO: Chris Brown, of the London School of Economics, says world leaders were not unaware that countries, even allies, spy on one another.

BROWN: But French and German public opinion is very upset by it. And so, the German government and the French government are going through expressions of outrage.

SHAPIRO: Today the administration responded to those expressions of outrage with an op-ed in USA Today. President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, described an intelligence policy review that's underway, to make sure safety and security needs are balanced against the privacy concerns.

She writes: We want to ensure we are collecting information because we need it and not just because we can.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.