German spy chiefs to head to US as snooping row widens

BERLIN (AFP) - German spy chiefs will travel to the United States next week to demand answers following allegations that US intelligence has been tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, as a row over widespread US snooping threatens to hurt transatlantic ties.

Documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden showing sweeping US surveillance on ordinary citizens' Internet searches and telephone records have already sparked outrage worldwide. But the furore has intensified after allegations that world leaders, including the presidents of Brazil and Mexico, have been among spying targets.

This week, the scandal widened to Europe, with allegations that Dr Merkel's phone was being tapped, prompting Berlin to summon the US ambassador - a highly unusual move between the close allies.

"High-ranking government representatives will go rapidly to the United States in order to push forward discussions with the White House and the NSA (National Security Agency) on the allegations raised recently," Mr Georg Streiter, the Chancellor's deputy spokesman, said on Friday.

German media quoting sources close to the intelligence service reported on Saturday that the delegation would include top officials from the German secret service.

The spying row has prompted European leaders to demand a new deal with Washington on intelligence gathering that will maintain an essential alliance while keeping the fight against terrorism on track. The 28 leaders also warn that while the bloc and the US share a "close relationship", it must "be based on respect and trust".

A lack of trust "could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering", they said in a statement at the close of the summit.

Germany and Brazil are also working on a UN General Assembly resolution to highlight international anger at US data snooping in other countries, diplomats said on Friday. The resolution will not mention the United States but will call for extending the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to Internet activities.

"The aim is to send a message to those who abuse the system," said a UN diplomat involved in the talks.