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US apologises to UK over wiretapping claims, expects tough questions from Germany

Trump claimed on Twitter that Obama ordered a “wire-tap” surveillance and called him a “sick guy”.

world Updated: Mar 17, 2017 23:05 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
London has said the Americans apologized and gave an undertaking that they will not repeat that charge again.(File Photo)

Britain, a close US ally, extracted an apology from White House for accusing it of spying on Trump Tower, the president’s New York home and office as candidate, and Germany, another close ally, was expected to push Donald Trump Friday on protectionist trade measures he has been touting to boost the American economy.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has said she planned to raise with the president, at their meeting in the White House on Friday, his threat to impose import duties on countries that have a trade surplus with the US, and other protectionist measures. And she is expected to put on the “reciprocity”, that Europe could all of that as well.

Just hours before Trump received Merkel, his aides, National Security Adviser HR McMaster and press secretary Sean Spicer, delivered the British an abject apology for accusing its signals intelligence, GCHQ, of spying on Trump Tower for President Barack Obama during the elections.

The White House said in a statement that McMaster and Spicer “explained” to the British that “Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story”. The press secretary had in his daily briefings recycled an unsubstantiated claim made on the conservative-leaning TV new network Fox that the British intelligence agency, GCHQ, which is NSA’s counterpart, was spying on Trump Tower for Obama.

But London has said the Americans apologized and gave an undertaking that they will not repeat that charge again.

The claim that Obama had ordered the surveillance was first made by Trump himself in a tweet in which he had accused Obama of ordering a “wire-tap” and had called him a “sick guy”. He has not provided any evidence in support of his claims yet, despite continuing calls even from his own Republican party. His aides, meantime, have pushed all sorts of theories, with one of them suggesting a microwave oven might have been used as a spying device.

That the Trump administration thought nothing of accusing a close ally like Britain of spying on the president will give US further grief about an administration that has seemed inexperienced and, worst, unhinged in phases.

Donald Trump and Angela Merkel at the Oval Office of the White House. (AFP)

Germany, specially. Trump has been extremely critical of Merkel about her policy on immigration and has accused her of “ruining Germany”. And the German chancellor has publicly criticized Trump’s travel ban, as has the other US ally, Britain.

Germany is said to be most concerned, however about the Trump administration’s economic and business policies. Merkel is accompanied to the White House meeting by CEOs of auto giant BMW, engineering behemoth Siemens, manufacturing major Schaffler.

Merkel plans to let Trump know German companies in the US are creating thousands and thousands of jobs. And, according to the BBC, she will also tell Trump that BMW’s South Carolina facility exports more cars from the United Sates than Ford and GM together. “I’ll make that clear,” she had added.

Trump, on the other hand, plans to ask Merkel about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, according to White House officials, who told NBC that the president “will be very interested in hearing the chancellor’s views on her experience interacting with Putin”.

First Published: Mar 17, 2017 23:02 IST