By Mick Krever, CNN
Germany needs U.S. partnership on spying but must first see a change from Washington and “probably the most detached President [in] decades,” former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
There is “a level of mistrust that needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed from Washington,” Guttenberg told Amanpour in London.
Trust between the two countries has fallen to dangerous lows as new allegations emerged that the U.S. recruited a spy inside Germany’s secret service.
Berlin has since ordered the top U.S. spy in the country to leave – the first time a close American ally has expelled a CIA station chief.
Spying, Guttenberg told Amanpour, “is nothing new.”
“Honestly, we all do it,” he said. “But you shouldn’t get caught.”
Getting caught now is particularly embarrassing for the United States, which had been under pressure to repair relations with Berlin after it was revealed last October that the U.S. had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
Germany of course is a country with its own dark history of government spying, and public opinion on America has soured as a result of the revelations.
(Of course, the former defense minister said, “everyone spies on each other. I cannot give you any evidence, but I think it’s an illusion to believe that the Germans just hold their hands in their lap.”)
The outrage in Germany now is not just about the Americans “getting caught,” he said.
“It’s a process now that has developed over the last couple of months, since last year, since the NSA revelations. And it is serious when you look at the general mood right now in Germany.”
Guttenberg served as minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel, and is still in regular touch with her.
Asking the CIA station chief to leave is “a serious matter,” but one that was necessary, he said, “because there was no reaction in the last couple of months from Washington.”
President Obama, he said, is “not seemingly capable to communicate properly on an eye-to-eye level with other heads of state.”
Case in point: The tapping of Merkel’s phone.
“[President Obama] knew it already last summer; what do you do in such a moment? You pick up the phone, you call the Chancellor, tell her, ‘Well, we messed up; let’s try to fix it.’ Didn’t happen.”
“After that, she campaigned, here at a campaign in Germany, defending the U.S. after the NSA revelations. It was a high risk for her.”
“And then the press revealed the phone tapping of Angela Merkel’s … cell phone.”
“Did he call then? No, it was her calling.”
Even with American presidents “the Germans struggled with,” such as George W. Bush, “we had on the top level a relationship that functioned, so that they may have bashed each other in public, but they could pick up the phone” and have cooperation.
On the substance of intelligence sharing, Guttenberg said that Germany needs U.S. support.
“We have an urgent need for cooperation looking at the challenges we are facing right now. Europe is still not capable of handling the crisis around Europe by itself – look at Ukraine, look at the Middle East at the moment.”
But a “no spy” agreement, as the U.S. has with four of its closest English-speaking allies, is likely not in the offing, and not even in German interests, he said.
“It would mean more responsibilities, responsibilities where we have been reluctant for the last couple of years.”
Among those, he said, is the requirement to explain to the German people “that we are part of a wide coalition, a broad coalition that is involved in things the German people don’t like to hear. That has historic reasons; that has other reasons.”
Whether Washington can change its tune to the satisfaction of German leadership remains to be seen.
In President Obama’s January speech announcing reforms to the NSA, he said that “that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don't threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures. This applies to foreign leaders as well.”
“There was a penalty and he missed the goal,” Guttenberg said of Obama a day after his country won the World Cup.
“And in the weeks after that he could have done quite a bit to actually put substance behind that very sentence, and it didn’t come. But there is still time to do so.”