“Now, I’m not going to comment on the specifics. As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss intelligence matters,” said Kerry. “And lots of countries are engaged in the activity of trying to protect their citizens and the world. 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’s appropriate. And our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens. And this work is going to continue, as well as our very consultations with our friends here in France.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Kerry was “focused on Middle East peace stuff.”
“I’m not speaking to any specific allegations or reports that are out there in the press about intelligence activities. Broadly speaking, there’s a balance that needs to be struck between security and privacy. The President has spoken to that, most recently at UNGA, and that’s the conversation we’re certainly having internally in the government, and are happy to have with our allies and partners around the world,” Harf said. “But I’m not speaking to the specific allegations in that report.”
When pressed on whether France had the right to be upset, she said, “I’m not going to talk about what other countries have the right to feel or not feel.”
“We’ve actually taken steps to be more transparent, both to our people but to other countries around the world. So I think that people do look at that as a positive step in the right direction,” Harf continued. “…I think people appreciate when the president or the secretary or other folks come out and say: I know there have been a lot of allegations out there. Here’s what we can say we’re doing, here’s how we’re looking at it. And when we have a path forward, we’ll let you know that as well.”
Harf didn’t know if Kerry had even reached out to the French side as he was wrapping up in his Arab Peace Initiative meetings.
“If issues of any kind arise, he, as you all know, is either happy to talk about them in person or over the phone with his counterparts, and certainly doesn’t want to let these kind of reports out there in the press hurt our efforts to work together on Syria, other issues that we work together with the French on, certainly,” she said. “He just happens to be there today, so I’m sure he’ll be having those discussions with them as well.”
The French Foreign Ministry confirmed “this topic will also be raised” when Fabius has Kerry’s ear on Tuesday.
“I am deeply shocked,” French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters in Copenhagen. “…It’s incredible that an allied country like the United States at this points goes as far as spying on private communications that have no strategic justification, no justification on the basis of national defense.”
The relationship with France, though, has taken on greater strategic importance in the past few years as the republic led the air campaign to help oust Moammar Gadhafi, pushed al-Qaeda back in the Mali campaign and seemed poised to strike Bashar al-Assad in Syria first as the White House wavered.
“Obviously we have an enormously important and valuable relationship between the United States and France, one of our closest allies and certainly our longest ally,” Carney said today at the White House. “…I would remind you that the National Security Agency is a foreign intelligence agency. It is focused on discovering and developing information about valid foreign intelligence targets. Its activities are directed against these valid foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements from U.S. leaders in order to protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
In his call with Hollande, the White House said Obama and the French leader “discussed recent disclosures in the press – some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed.”
“The President made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” the readout of the call said. “The two Presidents agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels moving forward.”