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Berlin seeks "credible and verifiable" pledges from U.S. on spying

A computer with a series of numbers and the logo of the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) is seen in this multiple exposure pict
A computer with a series of numbers and the logo of the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) is seen in this multiple exposure pict

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is seeking "credible and verifiable" commitments from the United States to guarantee the privacy of German citizens, according to a draft coalition document that reflects lingering resentment in Berlin over the U.S. response to spying allegations.

The paper, produced by a foreign affairs working group that has been negotiating a policy blueprint for a new German government, reaffirms Berlin's commitment to a free trade pact between the EU and United States, calling it a "vital project".

But it also makes clear that trust between the close post-war allies needs to be restored in the wake of revelations that the United States may have tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel touched on the issue in a speech to the Bundestag lower house of parliament on Monday, saying U.S. spying had put transatlantic relations and the trade deal "to the test".

"In those areas where trust was called into question of late, it must be re-established," reads the paper, which is expected to form part of a coalition contract between Merkel's conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

"In this regard, we expect a clear commitment and corresponding steps from the U.S. administration. We want to better define the rules of behavior between partners, and are seeking credible and verifiable agreements in order to protect the privacy of our citizens."

Senior German intelligence officials have travelled to Washington to discuss how to reshape cooperation between the countries.

U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity have told Reuters that Washington may be ready to agree to some kind of pledge -- either public or private -- not to engage in industrial or commercial espionage against German targets.

But German demands for a more comprehensive "no spy deal" are unlikely to be met.

In private, German officials have expressed frustration that President Barack Obama has not been more forthcoming in his public statements about the spying allegations since German magazine Der Spiegel reported on October 23 that Merkel's phone had been tapped.

The report was based on information leaked by fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

There has also been grumbling in Berlin about the fact that German officials had to travel to Washington to discuss the matter, instead of a U.S. delegation being sent to Berlin.

News of an extensive U.S. spying program broke shortly before Obama visited Berlin last June. Washington offered reassurances to Berlin at the time about the limited scope of the program, but German officials have suggested in recent weeks that these pledges were less than truthful.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

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