WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama brushed aside sharp European criticism on Monday, suggesting that all nations spy on each other as the French and Germans expressed outrage over alleged U.S. eavesdropping on European Union diplomats. American analyst-turned-leaker Edward Snowden, believed to still be at Moscow's international airport, applied for political asylum to remain in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement he acknowledged sounded odd, told reporters in Moscow that Snowden would have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wanted asylum in Russia — and he added that Snowden seemed unwilling to stop publishing leaks of classified material. At the same time, Putin said that he had no plans to turn over Snowden to the United States.
Obama, in an African news conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, said the U.S. would provide allies with information about new reports that the National Security Agency had bugged EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels. But he also suggested such activity by governments would hardly be unusual.
"We should stipulate that every intelligence service —not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there's an intelligence service — here's one thing that they're going to be doing: They're going to be trying to understand the world better, and what's going on in world capitals around the world," he said. "If that weren't the case, then there'd be no use for an intelligence service."
The latest issue concerns allegations of U.S. spying on European officials in the German news weekly Der Spiegel. French President Francois Hollande on Monday demanded that the U.S. immediately stop any such eavesdropping and suggested the widening controversy could jeopardize next week's opening of trans-Atlantic trade talks between the United States and Europe.