* U.S., German officials to hold talks on surveillance soon
* Merkel says seeks answers and conclusions
* Germany should consider protecting Snowden - opposition
* Merkel, Obama reiterate support for EU-U.S. free trade
(Recasts with Merkel comments, poll on Germans' view of U.S.)
By Roberta Rampton and Gernot Heller
BERLIN/WASHINGTON, July 4 (Reuters) - German Chancellor
Angela Merkel said after a phone call with Barack Obama on
Wednesday night that she believed the U.S. president took
Germany's concern over reported U.S. spying very seriously, and
she hoped coming talks would bring answers.
Obama sought to allay the anger in Germany and other
European allies in his call with Merkel, during which the
chancellor said she made clear to him spying was not what she
expected from countries considered friends.
They agreed to high level bilateral talks, in addition to
planned talks between the European Union and the United States,
to investigate reports that Washington spied on European allies.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich will travel to
the United States at the end of next week, a spokesman said.
The reports came to light amid the imbroglio over former
U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked details of
surveillance activities by Washington. He is currently in limbo
in a transit area of Moscow's airport as the United States
pressures Moscow to expel him home.
"I want to see the facts established," Merkel said on
Thursday during a press conference in Berlin. "I hope to gain
information and draw important conclusions."
She added: "I made clear spying on institutions within the
European Union is not how we would expect those we consider
friends to treat us. We are no longer in the Cold War."
Her comments come at the same time as a poll, published by
ARD-DeutschlandTrend, showing only 49 percent of Germans
consider the Americans trustworthy partners in the wake of the
row - a low not seen since the presidency of George W. Bush -
and down from a previous level of 65 percent.
In a statement, the White House said Obama assured Merkel
the United States took the concerns seriously and officials
would discuss intelligence and privacy issues as early as July
Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SPD, said German authorities
should quickly contact Snowden and consider giving him witness
protection, German news magazine Spiegel said on Thursday.
Two days earlier, Germany's Foreign and Interior Ministries
released a statement saying they had rejected Snowden's request
for asylum, faxed to the German embassy in Moscow.
"The first step must be that the federal prosecutors office
travels to Moscow to examine him as a witness," Gabriel was
quoted as saying, adding if he was reliable Germany should
consider whether to put him into a witness protection programme.
The White House said Obama and Merkel reiterated their
strong support for the launch of Transatlantic Trade and
Investment Partnership negotiations, welcoming the soon-to-begin
first round of discussions.
Obama promised on Monday to supply all the information
requested by European allies on the allegations, which he said
Washington was still evaluating.
"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
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 from sources that aren't available
through the New York Times or NBC News," Obama said.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Michelle
Martin in Berlin; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by
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