France summons US ambassador over spying report

LUXEMBOURG/PARIS (Reuters) – France summoned the US ambassador yesterday after Le Monde newspaper reported the huge scale of alleged American spying on French citizens, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius calling the revelations unacceptable.

Le Monde said the US National Security Agency (NSA) recorded 70.3 million items of French telephone data between December 10, 2012 and Jan. 8, 2013 and had collected tens of thousands of French phone records.

Its targets appeared to be individuals suspected of links to terrorism, but also people tied to French business or politics, the paper said.

The issue triggered a phone call between US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande.

The two men “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 White House said in a statement.

Obama noted that the United States was reviewing how it gathers intelligence to balance security and privacy concerns, the White House said.

The allegations tested France’s relations with Washington just as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris for the start of a European tour over Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Le Monde report yesterday had revealed “unacceptable practices”.

“We have extremely useful cooperation with the United States in the struggle against terrorism, but this cooperation does not justify everything,” Fabius told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

“So we’ve asked the United States to provide clarifications, explanations and justifications extremely quickly,” he added.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Kerry declined to comment on Washington’s intelligence-gathering as a matter of policy, but said that the United States would hold talks with France and other allies on the issue.

“Our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens and this work is going to continue as well as our very close consultations with our friends here in France,” Kerry said.

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