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EU wants same-day trade, security talks in US spy row

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

European security types are set to meet their US counterparts in Washington next week as European Union nations, incensed by reports of US snooping, link negotiations on a mega EU-US trade deal to same-day parallel talks on intelligence-swopping.

Diplomatic sources told AFP that top security and intelligence experts from both sides of the Atlantic would meet Monday -- when EU and US trade experts are also putting their heads together -- under a deal worked out but not yet finalised by EU ambassadors in Brussels.

"The idea is to hold a first meeting as soon as July 8, which would help justify not delaying the first session of the TTIP" (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Talks on the world's biggest ever free trade deal that were due to kick off Monday came under threat after explosive allegations of US spying on EU offices, with France notably demanding their postponement, but Germany keen to press ahead as planned.

EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso eventually announced a compromise Wednesday: the trade talks would open but run in tandem with working groups tasked with probing the extent of the US spying.

Ambassadors from the 28-nation bloc met Thursday to agree a joint response and an EU official who asked not to be named confirmed that "the idea is to launch both talks in parallel."

Britain however was holding up a deal, sources said, by objecting to the idea of an EU-US intelligence swop. The proposal on the table was to set up two groups of experts -- one on intelligence gathering, the other on data privacy and oversight.

"Our British friends probably don't know what side of the table to sit on," quipped an EU diplomat.

The EU says the free trade deal would add about 119 billion euros annually to the bloc's economy, and 95 billion euros for the United States -- giving a much-needed boost to Europe's stagnating economy.

But the snooping claims revealed by US fugitive Edward Snowden have cast a pall over the long-awaited trade talks.

In Strasbourg, the European Parliament demanded "immediate clarification" from Washington and warned of its "potential impact on trans-Atlantic relations".

But lawmakers rejected an amendment by left and far-left parliamentarians to call for the postponement of talks on the trade deal.

Seeking to limit the fallout from the scandal, US President Barack Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

"The president assured the chancellor that the United States takes seriously the concerns of our European allies and partners," according to a readout of the telephone conversation released by Washington.

Merkel's spokesman said she welcomed Obama's announcement that the US would provide information on its surveillance activities, and reiterated that Berlin and Washington were committed to the trade talks.

Ties between Washington and Brussels have been strained since Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed that the US was systematically seizing vast amounts of Internet and telephone data around the world.

Reports in the Guardian and Der Spiegel in recent days then detailed widespread covert surveillance by the NSA of EU offices, including diplomatic missions in Washington and at the United Nations in New York, as well as at its Brussels headquarters.

The White House said US and German security officials will hold a "high-level meeting" in the coming days to address intelligence matters.

EU sources in Brussels said Washington first had offered in response to the Prism scandal a US-EU dialogue on data protection, and in the last days a second dialogue on intelligence collection.

The latter group might be made up of intelligence experts from the EU's six biggest nations, while the data privacy and oversight group would include experts from member states as well as from the EU executive, the European Commission.

The spying row widened on Wednesday after Bolivia accused France, Italy, Portugal and Spain of temporarily denying President Evo Morales's plane overflight rights over suspicions that Snowden was travelling with him.

Snowden meanwhile is waiting for a country to give him safe haven.

The 30-year-old computer specialist arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23 in a bid to escape US efforts to have him extradited on espionage charges.

He has filed asylum requests with 21 countries.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130704/eu-wants-same-day-trade-security-talks-us-spy-row