BERLIN (Reuters) - German lawmakers looking into secret U.S. monitoring of Angela Merkel’s mobile phone said on Wednesday they would try to take evidence from former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in Moscow without compromising his status there.
In what might be a disappointment to Snowden - who wants to travel to Germany or France, according to a German politician who met him last week - officials from Merkel’s government and the centre-left ruled out bringing him to Germany.
“I made clear again that we will stick to our decision from the summer that Mr Snowden has no right to asylum in Germany because he is not a political refugee,” Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told reporters.
“We must now talk about the circumstances under which it could be possible to hear Mr Snowden in Moscow and get further information from him, if he has any,” he said after a meeting of a parliamentary committee which monitors intelligence agencies.
Last week, opposition lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele met Snowden in Moscow and said the 30-year-old American was ready to come to Germany to assist the investigations into wholesale electronic snooping by the United States which has angered its close ally Germany.
Revelations of eavesdropping by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ, including from their embassies a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate, have struck a raw nerve in Germany, where privacy is sacrosanct and memories linger of snooping by the Nazis and East German secret police.
Merkel has complained to Washington but stresses Germany’s gratitude for American support in the Cold War and the vital importance of the alliance. She is unlikely to agree to asylum for a man branded a traitor by many in the United States.
Thomas Oppermann, an interior policy expert with the Social Democrats who are expected to form a coalition government with Merkel’s conservatives soon, echoed Friedrich’s remarks, saying: “A hearing in Germany is not up for debate at the moment but we want to see first whether questioning is possible in Moscow.”
However, Stroebele said Snowden had told him he would not provide information to the Germans from Moscow and was keen for asylum in a “democratic” country after his year-long asylum in Russia expires. The temporary asylum granted to him by Moscow in early August can be extended annually.
“After the year’s asylum he has in Russia, he wants a safe stay somewhere, in a democratic state with rule of law,” said the Greens lawmaker, who sits on the intelligence oversight panel, adding that this could be France, Germany or elsewhere.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told German daily Bild that Snowden should be sent to the United States “where our legal system will guarantee him a fair trial in accordance with American law”.
According to an excerpt of an interview to be published on Thursday, Kerry also said U.S. and German intelligence officials had discussed the issues around the Snowden revelations in Washington and would hold further meetings.
The global row over spying shows no sign of abating. On Tuesday, Germany invited the British ambassador to the foreign ministry to discuss a media report that a covert spying station was operating in Berlin from the British embassy roof, echoing reports of a listening post on top of the nearby U.S. embassy.
Italian weekly Panorama news magazine said Britain’s GCHQ was also listening in on Italy’s phone calls and had spied on its Internet traffic since 2008, with help from telecoms companies including British Telecom and Vodafone.
Without citing its source, the magazine said GCHQ had also set up a special room in its embassy in Rome designed to monitor and intercept fixed-line and mobile phone calls.
Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Stephen Brown and Alistair Lyon