France may offer asylum to Snowden, Assange

DAILY SABAH
Istanbul
Published 26.06.2015 20:09

In a press statement published on Tuesday, WikiLeaks said the United States National Security Agency (NSA) spied on Presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande of France, citing top-secret intelligence reports and other technical documents.

After the reveal of the scandal, France summoned the U.S. ambassador while the U.S. said there will be more cooperation between the two countries. Moreover, White House wanted Hollande to be sure that he is not wiretapped. However, France gave a political response to the U.S. through saying that asylum may be offered to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said Thursday she "wouldn't be surprised" if France decided to offer asylum to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. "If France decides to offer asylum to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, I wouldn't be surprised. It's a possibility," Taubira told CNN affiliate BFMTV. She stressed it wasn't her decision, but that of the French Prime Minister and President.

However, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told Sputnik on Friday that "It is absolutely a possibility, but whether they will do it or not is absolutely another question, mostly about political reality. I'm afraid that it is rather doubtful that they will take such a step. However, it is interesting to hear such things mentioned." Hrafnsson said if France did in fact offer asylum, then it would be good news. "Of course, France can offer that to Julian and Edward, that would be a welcome gesture," he added.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement, "The French people have a right to know that their elected government is subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally," promising more "important revelations" soon.

First to report the revelations were the French daily newspaper Libération and news information website Mediapart, which said the spying spanned 2006 until 2012.

According to the documents, the United States spied on presidents regarding issues related to the French position on the Eurozone economy and Greece's potential exit from it, United Nations appointments, Middle East peace talks and the financial crisis of 2008. The leaked U.S. documents were based on phone taps and allegedly marked "top secret," filed in an NSA document named "Espionnage Elysée" (Elysée Spy).

In a statement released Wednesday, a day following the revelations, President Hollande described the reported U.S. spying as unacceptable and said Paris would not tolerate actions threatening its security, with the president's office saying, "France will not tolerate actions that threaten its security and the protection of its interests."

It added, "Commitments were made by U.S. authorities. They need to be recalled and strictly respected," referring to a discussion last year between the two presidents regarding concerns about NSA surveillance during a visit Hollande made to the U.S.

The French foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to France to discuss the revelations, according to a French diplomatic source.

"We find it hard to understand or imagine what motivates an ally to spy on allies who often have the same strategic positions in world affairs," French government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll told iTELE television.

Previous instances of U.S.-intelligence information gathering on foreign allies have caused diplomatic tensions, including with Germany and Brazil.

When former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed NSA spying activities in 2013, documents showed that the NSA had carried out large-scale electronic espionage in Germany and had bugged and eavesdropped on the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"While the German disclosures focused on the isolated fact that senior officials were targeted by U.S. intelligence, WikiLeaks' publication today provides much greater insight into U.S. spying on its allies," WikiLeaks said.

Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said on Tuesday: "We are not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande … We work closely with France on all matters of international concern, and the French are indispensable partners."

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