JAKARTA/Berlin - Indonesia recalled its ambassador to Australia Monday in a furious response to reports that Australian spy agencies tried to listen to the phone calls of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as well as his wife and ministers.
Jakarta, which said it was “devastated”, also vowed to review all cooperation with Canberra after secret documents leaked by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden said members of the president’s inner circle were spied on.
The escalating row came with ties between the strategic allies already strained over previous spying allegations and over ways to deal with boatpeople heading for Australia via Indonesia.
“This is an unfriendly, unbecoming act between strategic partners,” Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters as he announced the ambassador would be recalled for consultations. “This isn’t a smart thing to do,” he said, adding that it “hasn’t been a good day in the relationship between Indonesia and Australia”. The documents, obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian newspaper, showed that Australia’s electronic intelligence agency tracked Yudhoyono’s activity on his mobile phone for 15 days in August 2009, when Labor’s Kevin Rudd was prime minister. Weeks before, twin blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital - the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton - had killed seven people, including three Australians, as well as two suicide bombers. The directorate reportedly intercepted at least one call.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Monday for answers over “grave” accusations of US spying which, she said in a speech to parliament, had put transatlantic ties “to the test”.
Merkel kicked off a statement to the Bundestag lower house by addressing the issue of US snooping on German soil, which included her mobile phone.
Lawmakers will later return to the chamber to debate the widespread surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA), which has sparked outrage in privacy-sensitive Germany and frayed ties with the United States.
“The transatlantic relationship and therefore also the negotiations for a free trade agreement are presently without doubt being put to the test by the remaining accusations against the US and the collection of millions of data,” Merkel said.
“The accusations are grave. They must be explained and, more important still for the future, new trust must be built,” she said to applause from lawmakers.
Her remarks came at the start of an address to the Bundestag on EU partnerships with eastern European nations.
She stressed that ties with the US were of “paramount” importance for Germany and Europe.
After evidence of US agents having tapped Merkel’s mobile phone, part of wider revelations from leaked NSA documents from US fugitive Edward Snowden, she confronted President Barack Obama by phone last month.
Berlin also took the unusual step of summoning the US ambassador.
For months the claims have put the US in the firing line and strained diplomatic ties between Washington and its international allies, also casting a cloud over EU-US talks to clinch the world’s biggest free-trade accord.