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U.S.: Rice Trying To Mend Fences In Europe

Condoleeza Rice (file photo) (AFP) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is using a tour of European capitals this week to ask allies to ease the pressure on the United States over allegations that the CIA has run secret prisons for terrorist suspects in some European countries. She is expected to emphasize that the United States and Europe are partners in a war against terrorism that sometimes requires tough action.

Brussels, 5 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking at Andrews Air Force Base before her departure on a five-day European tour, Rice defended U.S. action regarding prisoners.

"We consider the captured members of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates to be unlawful combatants who may be held in accordance with the law of war to keep them from killing innocents," Rice said. "We must treat them in accordance with our laws, which reflect the values of the American people. We must question them to gather potentially significant, life-saving intelligence. We must bring terrorists to justice wherever possible."

Refused To Answer

But she refused to answer whether the CIA operated secret prisons in eastern Europe. Rice said that the United States cannot discuss information that would compromise intelligence and military options. "We expect other nations share this view," she added.

Rice begins her European tour in Berlin, facing the most serious threat to US-European relations since the beginning of the war in Iraq.

Intense media speculation over the alleged CIA prisons led the EU last week to take the highly unusual step of asking Washington for clarification.

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw confirmed last week that the EU’s British presidency has written a formal letter to the US administration.

"There are allegations about a foreign government and we have taken the appropriate steps, which is to ask for clarification by that government, which happens to be the United States government," Straw said.

A Comprehensive Reply

There is no proof of the allegations. However, the Council of Europe has launched a formal inquiry, and the European Commission has warned that member states complicit in illegal CIA activity could face internal EU sanctions.

The U.S. State Department has refused to confirm or deny the allegations, but has said it will give the EU a comprehensive reply.

U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on 4 December that Washington acts in accordance with its constitution and its international obligations. He said the United States respects the sovereignty of its partner countries, and does not “move people around the world so that they can be tortured."

Hadley also said that the EU benefits from aggressive U.S. measures against terrorism.

Fraser Cameron of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre told RFE/RL that governments in Europe are not likely to react as harshly as the public, but warned this could change in the long run.

“I certainly don’t think it’s likely to be as damaging as [the] Iraq [war] in terms of government attitudes, but it will have a very negative effect on public opinion and that, I think, is the real problem," Cameron said. "The Bush administration is already languishing at less than 25 percent support across Europe in terms of public support for its foreign policy. This will certainly not do anything to improve matters, and that makes it difficult for politicians to be seen to be working very closely with the Bush administration.”

Thierry Balzaq, an analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, says the allegations are likely to have a greater effect in Europe itself rather than on trans-Atlantic ties.

“I think the problem is much more focused on the European level itself," Balzaq said. "As far as the relationship between the EU and the U.S. is concerned, I think the impact will be less. That’s how I see it. But I think internally it’s going to be a blow for some of the member states, or at least [those] that were involved if [it is shown] that they were indeed involved in such practices.”

Henning Riecke, the head of the Transatlantic Security programme at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told RFE/RL that Berlin will be asking Rice for explanations. But he says Germany -- which is linked to more than 400 overflights or landings of CIA planes -- may not be too keen to press the issue.

"The German government will not use this issue to seek confrontation with Rice," Riecke said. "But there is huge political pressure to seek clarification. I think that most governments will proceed along the lines that the German government has laid out. And that is: we need clarification on that but we are not going to sing with the uproar of rumor that is now going around. We want to have clarification first and of course clarification on what was actually known about the flights and the purpose of the flights in the German administration. I think this is a double-edged sword. If you seek confrontation, you might find out that some of it was known even by the German administration or that the topic has been longer in the headlines and the Europeans have failed to seek clarification first.”

After Berlin, Rice will visit Bucharest, Kiev, and Brussels.