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Obama Calls French President Over Spying Allegations

by VOA News October 21, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama called France's President Francois Hollande on Monday to discuss French outrage about claims that a U.S. spy agency eavesdropped on millions of phone calls of French citizens.

Obama told the French president the U.S. is reviewing its intelligence gathering to ensure a balance between security and privacy.

This move for damage control came as the White House complained that some allegations of U.S. activities carried in the French press were 'distorted.'

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called in the U.S. ambassador to ask about an article in Le Monde newspaper about large-scale spying on French citizens by the U.S. National Security Agency.

The article alleged that the NSA gathered tens of millions of French phone records over a one-month period. Fabius called the claims 'shocking.'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was questioned on the matter when he arrived Monday in Paris for talks on the Middle East. He declined to talk about the specific allegations, but said the United States will discuss the matter privately with French officials and other concerned allies. He said protecting the security of people in today's world is very complicated and challenging.

'Now I am not going to comment on the specifics. As a matter of policy we don't discuss intelligence matters, and lots of countries are engaged in the activity of trying to protect their citizens and the world,' Kerry said. 'As the president, as President Obama said very clearly in a recent speech that he gave at the United Nations General Assembly just a few weeks ago, he said 'we in the United States are currently reviewing the way that we gather intelligence.' And I think that is appropriate, and our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens.''

Mexico reacted angrily Monday to an article published in the German weekly Der Spiegel, in which Snowden accused the NSA of accessing the e-mail of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Mexico's foreign ministry called the practice 'unacceptable, illegal and against Mexican and international law.'

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf would not confirm or deny the recent reports of U.S. spying. She told reporters Monday that all countries understand the value of gathering intelligence and said the United States is willing to discuss concerns that any country has about U.S. practices.

The spokeswoman said there always is a balance between security and privacy, and said the United States is trying to figure out where that balance lies.

'We're trying to find the right balance here about what we gather and how we gather it. The president has spoken to this at length now,' Harf said. 'And it's worth keeping in mind as we have a discussion, keep in mind the entire intelligence picture.'

Snowden, who has taken refuge in Russia, is wanted in the U.S. for espionage and other charges, after leaking details of the NSA's worldwide spying activities.

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