BERLIN — The German government will examine how the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden could testify to a parliamentary inquiry into U.S. intelligence activities in Germany, the interior minister said Wednesday, amid rising demands not only to thank Snowden for his disclosures but also to grant him full political asylum.
At the same time, a senior German intelligence official raised concerns, which he said were shared by European colleagues, that the White House and Congress had failed to understand the depth of the rift over U.S. intelligence activities. The fury built with the disclosure two weeks ago of eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone and subsequent reports that the monitoring and other espionage activities were carried out from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.
The statements come as Germany is clearly seeking leverage for a binding agreement with Washington to end mutual spying and put intelligence sharing on a new basis. The situation in both capitals is fluid, and the pressures evident: Germans see a vulnerable President Barack Obama in trouble on several fronts in Washington, while in Berlin Merkel is negotiating a new coalition government with Social Democrats who Americans fear may pull her further into the camp of Washington's critics.
The interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of Merkel's conservative bloc, ruled out asylum but said that "we must now discuss under what circumstances and how it is possible, that Mr. Snowden is heard from, and by whom, in Moscow."
Increasingly, Snowden's actions are tearing at the elite in Germany, even tempting veteran Atlanticists to recall the Cold War tussle between Washington and Moscow for the sympathies of the citizens of Europe's biggest country. The temperature of the debate is alarming Berlin, where senior officials are not sure that the White House or Congress understand what a rift the "NSA affair," as it is known here, has brought about.