US lawmakers to visit European officials on surveillance

AFP , Friday 22 Nov 2013

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers her speech about European policy and the German relationship to the United States during a debate at the German parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 (Photo: AP)

US lawmakers will launch a "goodwill" mission to Europe next week to smoothe ties frayed by revelations of American espionage on Europeans allegedly including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and two members of the House of Representatives will visit Berlin on Monday and Brussels Tuesday to address the transatlantic partnership as well as concerns about National Security Agency surveillance activities.

They are scheduled to meet in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle Monday around noon, as well as with members of the Bundestag lower house.

Der Spiegel reported that Merkel and President Joachim Gauck had "rebuffed" requests for a meeting with the US delegation.

But Murphy, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, rejected Der Spiegel's report.

"Most of this is really an interparliamentary exchange," he told AFP.

"Our primary purpose is to go and speak to members of the Bundestag and speak to members of the European Parliament," he said.

According to Der Spiegel, the head of the foreign policy department, Christoph Heusgen, plans to meet Murphy and a member of the House of Representatives at the Chancellery, Merkel's office.

Murphy's office, however, would not confirm any specific meeting.

Murphy told AFP that the trip was an opportunity to tell the Europeans, and the Germans in particular, that "many of the concerns that they raised are not unfamiliar to those of us in the United States Congress."

"We're having a conversation in this country about the intrusion of US intelligence into the lives of American citizens and it's appropriate for us to also have a conversation about how that affects Europeans," he added.

He added that ultimately his "primary hope is to build some goodwill that's clearly been lost in the last several weeks."

The visit comes after Merkel called for answers Monday over "grave" US spying accusations testing transatlantic ties, including fledgling trade talks.

A poll showed earlier this month that Germans' trust in the United States took a battering in the wake of the spy revelations, with 61 percent saying Washington could not be trusted.

With memories of the methods employed by the Nazis and East Germany's communist regime still very much alive, Germans are especially sensitive to the issue of state surveillance.

But a revelation last month that Merkel's communications were also monitored prompted her to confront Obama by telephone.

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