Angela Merkel is occupying a position of increasing prominence on the international stage. As the economic linchpin of the EU, Germany is a key player in the confrontation between the west and Russia. Any hopes that the Obama administration has of putting effective economic pressure on Russia require Merkel's cooperation. She is bringing with her an agenda of considerable importance in German politics, the revelations from the Snowden disclosures about the extensive NSA spying activities in Germany, including her own cell phone. The German government is attempting to negotiate a mutual no spy pact with the US. It appears that no progress has been made on those negotiations.
The effort to remake the intelligence relationship between the United States and Germany after it was disclosed last year that the National Security Agency was tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone has collapsed, according to German officials, who say there will be no broad intelligence sharing or “no-spy” agreement between the two countries when Ms. Merkel arrives at the White House on Friday.The political tensions in Germany over the spying have been mounting. Americans seem generally unconcerned with reports of NSA activities directed at foreigners in general and foreign governments in particular. It is their own 4th amendment rights that interest them. However the topic plays very differently in Berlin. There has been considerable effort to cast the issue as a matter of national honor. One can imagine American reaction if Obama's phone had been tapped. The opposition parties in the German parliament have been trying to get maximum mileage out of the issue. They had been pushing to have Edward Snowden appear in person before a parliamentary committee. It was conjectured that once there, there would be pressure for Germany to grant him asylum. Merkel's government turned down the proposal for his personal appearance on the grounds that it would damage relations with the US. Now what concessions is she getting from Obama in return for this cooperation. Not much.
The failure to reach a broader accord has led to some bitter recriminations on both sides, with sharply diverging accounts from officials in Berlin and Washington about who was responsible for what was supposed to be a political solution to an embarrassing disclosure. But it also raises broader questions at a moment that President Obama and Ms. Merkel will attempt to show that they are in general accord on a strategy for both punishing Russia for its actions in Ukraine and containing President Vladimir V. Putin in the years ahead.
The effort to remain in step, at a time of significant disagreements within the European alliance about how to respond to Russia, is “going to put our intelligence relationships to the kind of test we haven’t seen since the end of the Cold War,” a senior administration official said this week.
But the talks hit the rocks as soon as they began. Germany demanded a no-spy agreement that would ban the United States from conducting espionage activities on its soil. That led to a series of tough exchanges between the president’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, and her German counterpart, Christoph Heusgen.The US is finding itself increasingly spread thin in the effort to maintain its role as the world's reigning super power. Demands on the NATO alliance in Europe and security issues in Asia are coming at a time of declining US military funding. The 21st is looking less and less like the new American century. When it comes to the arrogance of the NSA, the cost appears to be on the rise.
Ms. Rice, according to American officials, said that the United States did not have no-spy agreements with any of its close allies, even with the other members of the so-called Five Eyes — the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — which share virtually all of their intelligence. She said any such agreement with Germany would set a precedent that every other major European ally, along with the Japanese, the South Koreans and others, would soon demand to replicate.
By the American account of events, German officials decided to proceed with an agreement for enhanced intelligence sharing, a process that consumed the intelligence agencies in both countries, and was presided over by Ms. Rice and Mr. Heusgen. American officials said that in January, the Germans terminated those talks, saying that if an accord could not include a no-spy agreement — a political necessity for Ms. Merkel — it was not worth signing.