The German government yesterday held out the extraordinary prospect of a direct meeting with NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden to help resolve a diplomatic row between Berlin and Washington over the US intelligence agency's unbridled spying activities.
The idea was put forward by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Interior Minister following abortive attempts by Berlin officials to obtain a satisfactory explanation from Washington about National Security Agency spying in Germany, including revelations that the agency had bugged the German leader's mobile phone for over a decade.
Responding to an offer by Mr Snowden to come to Berlin to give details about NSA spying, the Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said: "If the message is that Mr Snowden wants to give us information then we'll gladly accept that. Every explanation, everything in terms of information and facts that we can get is good," he added.
Mr Friedrich did not say which government officials might meet Mr Snowden, who has been a fugitive in Moscow on account of his whistleblowing activities, since the summer.
But he said: "We will find a way, if Mr Snowden is ready to talk."
However Anatoly Kucherena, Mr Snowden's lawyer, insisted yesterday it would be impossible for his client to leave Russia.
On his return to Berlin yesterday, Mr Strobele held a press conference and insisted that Mr Snowden was "an important witness" for Germany who was ready to help clear up the NSA spying affair. "He can envisage coming to Germany if he is given guarantees that he can remain in Germany or in another comparable country and that he is safe there."
In a letter to the German government and distributed at the press conference, Mr Snowden wrote that he had faced a "severe and sustained campaign of persecution" which had forced him to leave his family and his home.
He added: "I look forward to speaking with you in your country."
However Mr Snowden's lawyer said that his client could only be questioned by German officials in Russia.
He said that if Mr Snowden left the country he would lose his current status, which guarantees him political asylum until June next year.
Mr Friedrich's offer to Mr Snowden represented a U-turn for the German government, which had previously ruled out the idea of questioning the NSA whistleblower. (©Independent News Service)