BRUSSELS — The leaders of Germany and France on Friday offered to hold talks with the United States to come up with mutually acceptable rules for surveillance operations, easing a trans-Atlantic spying dispute that has plunged relations between Europe and the United States to a low point.
A day earlier, fury over reports that US intelligence agents had monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany spread to other European leaders, and prompted calls to suspend trade talks with Washington.
But in a remarkable attack on both Edward J. Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor, and news organizations that have printed classified material he has provided, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain accused them of “helping our enemies” and endangering lives. Snowden and the newspapers are “signaling to people who mean to do us harm how to evade and avoid intelligence and surveillance and other techniques,” Cameron said at a news media conference Friday in Brussels.
While Cameron said he supported Merkel and President François Hollande of France in seeking talks with Washington on new rules governing electronic surveillance, he delivered his strongest denunciation of those involved in publishing leaked material.
“That is not going to make our world safer, it’s going to make our world more dangerous,” he said, speaking after a summit of European leaders that was eclipsed by concern about the extent of electronic eavesdropping by Washington.
Those worries could intensify with the publication in The Guardian newspaper on Friday of a report that as long ago as October 2006, the National Security Agency — Snowden’s former employer — had monitored the telephone conversations of 35 world leaders. The assertion emerged in what the British newspaper described as a classified document that Snowden had leaked.
The article did not identify the leaders but said their phone numbers had been provided by other US officials in response to a request from the NSA to share their contacts.
Merkel said during an early morning news conference in Brussels that a pact ending the kind of surveillance made public by Snowden should be reached by January.
The aim is to “come to a common understanding of the services between the United States and Germany and France so that we put down a framework for cooperation,” Merkel said after 28 European Union leaders ended the first of two days of trade talks.
The revelations about the eavesdropping on Merkel follow reports of extensive US electronic surveillance in France, and suggestions that US and British intelligence services monitored and are probably still monitoring Italian telecommunications networks.
But in a further sign of a willingness to defuse the dispute, Merkel said the leaders meeting in Brussels had not talked about interrupting negotiations with the United States on a landmark trade deal aimed at reducing tariffs and aligning regulations.
Asked whether she wanted an apology, Merkel said, “The most important thing at this juncture is to find a basis” so that “trust can be rebuilt.”
She also suggested that the door had been left open to a possible suspension of an agreement with the United States that allows it to track the finances of terrorist groups.