France on Tuesday warned the United States to stop snooping on telephone calls of its citizens but backed away from picking a fight with its ally over the issue.
In a breakfast meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius demanded a full explanation of the latest revelations about a controversial US spying programme.
“He (Fabius) repeated our demand for an explanation of spying practices which are unacceptable between partners and which must stop,” a spokesman for the minister said after the brief meeting.
Despite the robust tone adopted by the foreign ministry, there were signs that Paris wants to defuse the row created by the latest revelations based on leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
When asked if France was considering reprisals over the NSA’s conduct, government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud Belkacem played down the possibility.
“It is up to foreign minister Fabius to decide what line we take but I don’t think there is any need for an escalation (of the situation),” Vallaud Belkacem told France 2 television.
“We have to have a respectful relationship between partners, between allies. Our confidence in that has been hit but it is after all a very close, individual relationship that we have.”
Le Monde newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency had monitored more than 70 million phone communications in France between December 10, 2012 and January 8 this year.
The daily said that the operation appeared to have targeted business and political figures as well as people suspected of being involved in terrorism, putting it in a different league from the monitoring France’s own intelligence services reportedly carry out.