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News Wrap: Germany’s Merkel phones Obama to complain about U.S. spying

October 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: We will have more on this after the news summary.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained directly to President Obama today over reports of U.S. spying on her conversations. She telephoned the president after learning the National Security Agency may have monitored her cell phone. A spokesman called it completely unacceptable.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney didn’t directly deny that the U.S. captured Merkel’s calls in the past.

Instead, he said:

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: I can tell you that the president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor. The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Merkel is the latest in a string of foreign leaders to complain about NSA intercepts of phone calls and e-mails.

The president also spoke today with the prime minister of Pakistan in person at the White House. It was the latest effort to improve strained relations.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has that story.

PRESIDENT PRESIDENT OBAMA: We are very glad to be able to partner with the people of Pakistan and the Pakistani government.

MARGARET WARNER: In the Oval Office today, President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took pains to emphasize their desire to turn around the rocky relationship of recent years.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The United States considers Pakistan to be a very important strategic partner. We believe that if Pakistan is secure and peaceful and prosperous, that’s not only good for Pakistan; it’s good for the region, and it’s good for the world.

PRIME MINISTER NAWAZ SHARIF, Pakistan: We also discussed a common vision to build a robust bilateral cooperation, a broad-based, stable and enduring partnership founded on the principles of mutual respect.

MARGARET WARNER: But there is a long way to go. Relations between the two countries hit a nadir two-and-a-half years ago.

In early 2011, Pakistani protesters took to the streets after a CIA operative shot and killed two men in Lahore. Then, in May, U.S. Navy SEALs stormed a compound in Abbottabad, killing Osama bin Laden. Also that year, U.S. troops in Afghanistan mistakenly killed Pakistani soldiers in a border incident. For a time, Pakistan halted NATO supply convoys through the Khyber Pass. Now the Pentagon hopes to use those routes in withdrawing from Afghanistan next year.

It’s against that backdrop that newly elected Prime Minister Sharif, who’s held that post twice before, returned to the White House for the first time in 14 years. Both countries have an incentive to improve relations. The U.S. wants Pakistan’s help in negotiating an end to the Afghan conflict. And the Pakistanis need American aid.

But the U.S. is frustrated that Taliban-affiliated groups still use Western Pakistan as a base to hit U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Just yesterday, human rights groups reported U.S. drone strikes in that region have killed dozens of civilians. Sharif has repeatedly denounced the drone attacks and took that message directly to the president.

NAWAZ SHARIF: I also brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes.

MARGARET WARNER: Before today’s visit, U.S. officials signaled they would unfreeze $1.6 billion in military and economic assistance aid to Pakistan suspended two years ago.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Iraq, at least 16 people died in a new wave of bombings and shootings in and around Baghdad today. Dozens more were wounded. That followed overnight attacks on police in Anbar Province that killed 19 Iraqis. The violence has surged since April, with at least 450 people killed this month alone.

Pope Francis has temporarily banished a German bishop from his Roman Catholic diocese for spending $43 million on a new residence. The Vatican said today that Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Els of Limburg was ordered to leave, pending an investigation. The bishop has defended the expenditures, but they have provoked an outcry in Germany.

The future monarch of Britain, Prince George, was christened today. The royal family marked the occasion at a small ceremony in London.

We have a report from Tim Ewart of Independent Television News.

TIM EWART: He was briefly in the background, but not for long. George Alexander Louis, prince of Cambridge and third in line to the throne, is now three months old and clearly growing fast. There was a little help from his father with the royal wave, but as he arrived for his christening, it was apparent that there is now another royal the cameras will love. This was the start of what will be a very public life.

It was, in fact, a very private service. The queen and Prince Philip were driven into St. James’s Palace, the briefest glimpse of royalty for people who’d gathered outside, a few camping overnight. The queen and the duke of Edinburgh headed a small royal contingent, with Charles and Camilla and Prince Harry. Low-key was the order of the day.

This christening is another sign of the way things are changing within the royal family. William and Kate are quite happy to break with tradition and to do things their way. There were just 22 guests for a service conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London. Of the seven godparents, only one was from the royal family, Princess Anne’s daughter Zara, herself expecting a baby.

Prince George, of course, is blissfully unaware of the relentless attention from which his parents hope to shield him. Christening over, it was time for tea.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s word that fewer people died from tuberculosis in 2012. The World Health Organization reported 1.3 million deaths, down 100,000 from the year before. But the WHO warned there’s a growing risk from drug-resistant strains of T.B. and from people not getting adequate treatment. Of all infectious diseases, only HIV kills more people than T.B.

The city of Detroit began presenting evidence in court today to prove it is actually bankrupt. Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection this summer, but unions and pension funds said the city acted prematurely. They want a federal bankruptcy court to reject the filing. We will hear more on today’s arguments later in the program.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 54 points to close at 15,413. The Nasdaq fell 22 points to close at 3,907. Energy stocks were hard-hit as oil prices slid below $97 a barrel. That’s the lowest in four months.