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U.S.: Spying on French raises 'legitimate' issues

Oct. 22, 2013 at 1:30 AM   |   Comments

PARIS, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Spying on millions of French phone calls raises legitimate issues for U.S. allies, the White House said ahead of a U.S.-French meeting on the matter in Paris.

Secretary of State John Kerry will be asked to discuss the matter with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius when the two meet in the ministry office Tuesday, a ministry spokesman said.

The previously scheduled meeting was originally to talk about proposed Syrian peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, and Iran's nuclear program -- the first in a series of meetings Kerry has scheduled in European capitals to discuss those issues.

The Paris meeting will still discuss Syria and Iran, ministry spokesman Alexandre Giorgini said, but would also address Monday's report in French newspaper Le Monde that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted 70.3 million digital communications inside France from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.

The NSA surveillance may have targeted communications from well-known people in business and government, in addition to tracking people suspected of having links to terrorism, Le Monde said.

The report, based on secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, said the targeted communications included phone calls and instant messages.

It did not make clear how many of those were listened to or read -- nor did it spell out why the interception took place then or why the time frame was limited to 30 days.

"This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable, and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens," Fabius said Monday.

"We cooperate in a meaningful way in the fight against terrorism, but that does not justify everything," he said.

Kerry, who arrived in Paris hours after Le Monde's report was published, told reporters combating terrorism included security challenges that were an "everyday," "24/7" problem.

"We in the U.S. are currently reviewing the way that we gather intelligence -- and I think that is appropriate," he said.

President Barack Obama phoned French President Francois Hollande after the Le Monde story appeared.

His call came after the French Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin to demand an urgent explanation of the spying.

Obama assured Hollande Washington was working to balance privacy concerns "all people share" with "legitimate security concerns" of U.S. citizens, the White House said in a statement.

"The president and President Hollande discussed recent disclosures in the press -- some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed," the statement said.

"The president made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share," the statement continued.

"The two presidents agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels moving forward," it said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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