President Obama on Monday spoke with French President François Hollande to address his “legitimate questions” following reports about National Security Agency surveillance of French citizens, the White House announced.
“The United States and France are allies and friends, and share a close working relationship on a wide range of issues, including security and intelligence,” said the White House in a readout of the call.
“The President and President Hollande 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 statement continued.
The call came after a report based on leaked documents from former government contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. had conducted electronic surveillance of French citizens' phone calls. The report published in Le Monde said the NSA had intercepted over 70 million calls from French citizens over December 2012 and January 2013.
The French government on Monday summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain the surveillance.
“These kinds of practices between partners, that violate privacy, are totally unacceptable,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, according to reports.
The latest damaging disclosure from Snowden, who fled to Russia where he received temporary asylum after revealing the extent of U.S. electronic surveillance domestically and abroad, came as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris on Monday. Kerry said U.S. Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin would meet with his French counterparts to discuss their concerns.
The Obama administration has defended the NSA activities, saying they are similar to the electronic surveillance conducted by other nations and that the programs have thwarted terror threats and saved lives.
The disclosures though have also sparked criticism from Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers say they were unaware of the extent of NSA snooping. Obama has promised greater transparency and a review of the programs to properly balance national security and civil liberties.
“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,” said the White House about Obama’s call with Hollande.
The two leaders “agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels moving forward,” the White House added.
Obama and Hollande also discussed the civil war in Syria and efforts to broker a solution to the violence.