The U.S. has been accused of spying on German Prime Minister Angela Merkel.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle suggested Washington may have deceived Berlin with assurances about the scope of its covert spying program, which was revealed earlier this year by fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
“In the summer, we received explanations and assurances,” the German minister said. “Whether we can trust these explanations and assurances, that must be examined again.”
He took the unusual step of making part of his statement in English – to make the message to Washington “quite clear”.
Some politicians suggested the row could disrupt European Union negotiations with the United States on a free trade pact, though others played down that possibility.
State surveillance is a highly sensitive subject in a country haunted by memories of eavesdropping by the dreaded Stasi secret police in East Germany, where Merkel grew up.
The news shocked many Germans, coming just four months after Obama visited Merkel in Berlin on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Obama then praised Germany as one of Washington’s closest partners.
Some Germans said they viewed such eavesdropping as a betrayal by the country that did most to defend democratic West Germany from Soviet-backed communism during the Cold War.
“This is not how you should treat your partners,” said Stephanie Hilebrand, 38, as she walked by the Brandenburg Gate, once a forlorn landmark in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.
“We’re not terrorists. Nor is our chancellor.”
Evidence of the spying was uncovered by German weekly Der Spiegel, which according to officials, obtained an NSA document with Merkel’s mobile phone number on it and showed it to her office, which had it vetted by German intelligence.
They concluded that the document was credible, leading Merkel to confront Obama about it in a phone call on Wednesday.