Brussels, 8 December 2005 (RFE/RL) – Condoleezza Rice was careful today not to overstate the success she had in persuading Washington's NATO allies that the United States does not violate international law in its fight against terrorism:
"We all recognize -- as stewards of our own political systems -- that we have an obligation to protect innocent life. We talked about the need as countries who respect the rule of law to do that in a lawful way. I think the discussion was extremely important. It was enlightening," Rice said.
At a dinner last night, 32 foreign ministers representing all NATO and European Union countries had what participants later described as a "long" and "transparent" discussion on the issue.
Rice’s visit to Europe had been preceded by intense focus on a report by "The Washington Post" that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has operated secret prisons in Europe and transported terrorist suspects whose rights were being abused across European territory. Some European governments have launched formal investigations.
A NATO spokesman said today that European ministers had been "satisfied" by Rice’s explanations.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed Rice’s promise that the United States will respect international law in its fight against terrorism. "NATO and EU ministers were able to raise concerns that world leaders should not diverge from each other in the interpretation of international law," he said. "Secretary Rice promised that in the United States, no interpretation of international agreements is different to that of Europe, and that, at least, was a good thing to say."
Rice said after the meeting today that U.S. actions respect the rule of law, its own constitution, and the country's international obligations. She also said the United States has always followed the laws of the countries whose territories CIA flights have crossed.
Rice repeated an earlier pledge that U.S. personnel are not allowed to use torture against anyone, anywhere in the world: "The United States is quite clear and quite determined to carry out [President George W. Bush's] policy, which he articulated clearly -- that the United States does not engage in torture, doesn't condone it, doesn't expect its employees to engage in it. Will there be abuses of policy? That is entirely possible. Just because you are a democracy, it doesn't mean you are perfect."
Rice argued strongly that up-to-date intelligence collected in secrecy is essential in thwarting terrorist plans to cause massive loss of human life, and that traditional methods where punishment follows the crime cannot therefore be followed. She acknowledged the debate with Europe is likely to continue.
NATO ministers today also approved the extension of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the south of Afghanistan. Rice said the decision signals a long-term NATO commitment.
"We endorsed a plan that has been put together by the [NATO] Military Committee that will expand NATO's ISAF presence into the south of the country," she said. "We want to underscore that NATO wants to work on a long-term plan of security cooperation and training and support for Afghanistan to help reform and strengthen its defense institutions."
NATO will lead four new Provincial Reconstruction Teams in southern Afghanistan, and add some 6,000 troops to the 9,500 it already deploys in the country. They will be authorized to defend themselves "robustly" if attacked.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said today that NATO needs the help of other international partners such as the EU and Group of Eight (G-8). He said a London donors meeting early next year dubbed the "Kabul Compact" will prove an opportunity for the international community to demonstrate its commitment to Afghanistan.
De Hoop Scheffer also announced an extension of the NATO officer-training mission in Iraq. "Ministers discussed Iraq, and they agreed that NATO’s training mission for Iraq officers will expand to include a so-called basic officers course and a leadership course for noncommissioned officers," he said.
NATO officials say this will bring the mission to full strength.
A NATO-Russia meeting set for later today will launch a counternarcotics training program for officials from Afghanistan and the five Central Asian countries. The initiative will include Uzbekistan, which had a low-level delegation visit Brussels yesterday and today.
However, since the brutal crackdown in Andijon in May, Uzbekistan operates what NATO officials call "an empty chair policy" at political meetings, and the Uzbek foreign minister was not present at today's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council meeting. The 45 countries present held a discussion on the values NATO partners are expected to share. Officials say Uzbekistan came in for harsh condemnation.