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Obama Tries to Woo Back Germany, Merkel in NSA Flap

In an interview with German TV, the president promises that the U.S. won't spy on Germany and leader Angela Merkel.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that he would not let revelations about U.S. intelligence work and surveillance damage ties with Germany, a day after outlining his plans to curb the government's mass collection of phone records.

In an attempt to reassure key U.S. allies, Obama spoke exclusively to German TV network ZDF, addressing Germans and their leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The interview and statements set Obama on path to repair ties strained last year by revelations that Washington was spying on European Union citizens and had bugged Merkel's mobile phone.

"A lot of suspicion had been built up in Germany and frankly around the world in the wake of the Snowden disclosures, and it's going to take some time to win back trust," Obama said, referring to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who disclosed classified information about the United States' surveillance programs.

Snowden, who is living in asylum in Russia, is wanted by U.S. authorities on espionage charges.

The interview with ZDF took place a day after Obama outlined new changes to national intelligence gathering practices, including banning eavesdropping on leaders of close allies, among a series of reforms.

By speaking to ZDF, Obama appeared to indicate Germany was among the United States' allies.

"Even if we have disagreements of any sort, the one thing that I know is that I have established a relationship of friendship and trust with [Merkel], in part because she's always very honest with me and I try to be very honest with her," Obama said. "I don't need, and I don't want, to harm that relationship by surveillance mechanisms that somehow would impede the kind of communication and trust that we have."

Obama added: "What I can say is as long as I am president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany will not have to worry about this."

Merkel accused the United States of breaching trust after the cellphone bugging allegations became public in October.

But on Saturday, Obama stopped short of apologizing and, instead, defended the importance of U.S. intelligence work for international security.

"I think it's fair to say that there are a whole series of European countries who are very glad that the U.S. has those military capabilities and intelligence capabilities," Obama said.

"What is also true is because we have these greater capabilities it means that we have greater responsibilities when it comes to privacy and protection than other countries do, it means that there are higher expectations placed on us than other countries."

Reuters contributed to this report.