Merkel says Obama took seriously spy concerns

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Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that President Barack Obama had taken seriously concerns over US spying claims in a phone talk, as Germany insisted that transatlantic free trade talks remain the top priority.

Merkel spoke to Obama Wednesday after uproar in Germany and other European nations over revelations by US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency has been scooping up vast amounts of data on Americans and foreigners.

"I have the impression that the American president has taken things, also the worries and doubts, very seriously," Merkel told reporters at the government guest house north of Berlin.

She said that she had made clear that spying on EU institutions did not correspond to "what should guide us as friends".

"We are no longer in the Cold War," said Merkel, who faces elections in less than three months.

Germany has reacted with particular alarm to revelations of US and British spy programmes, given its history of state surveillance and secret police abuses under the Nazis and the communist East German regime.

The White House said the two leaders in their call had agreed to a "high-level meeting" between US and German security officials in coming days to address intelligence matters, and that a US-EU dialogue on intelligence collection and data protection would begin as early as July 8.

That appeared to be a concession of sorts to European Union demands to set up working groups looking at the extent of the US snooping into phone data, emails and web searches.

The White House said about the call that "the president assured the chancellor that the United States takes seriously the concerns of our European allies and partners".

Merkel said that facts needed to be clarified and that it was "important and right that talks are held".

US-EU free trade talks remain the "highest priority", her spokesman said in an earlier statement, despite the tensions over the US spying claims.

French President Francois Hollande had Wednesday threatened to block the trade negotiations until France can be sure spying on EU institutions has ended.

At a European conference in Berlin on youth unemployment Wednesday, the 28-nation bloc presented a joint reaction to the claims of US mass surveillance.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announced the bloc's position -- that talks aimed at establishing the world's largest free trade area run parallel with the US-EU working groups.

Trade negotiations are set to begin Monday.

Merkel also welcomed an announcement by Obama that the US would provide information to its allies on its surveillance activities.

"The upcoming Washington visit by a delegation of representatives from German ministries and services will provide the opportunity for an intensive exchange on these issues as well as for discussion on further deepened cooperation," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

On a visit to Berlin last month, Obama reassured Merkel that American spies were not "rifling" through the emails of German and French citizens.