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CIA Secret Flight Scandal Dominates Merkel, Rice Meeting

Reported secret flights by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) across Germany dominated talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

Kicking off a joint press conference with Rice, Merkel expressed the will to boost German-US ties, which have been soured since former German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder strongly opposed the March 2003 US-led Iraqi war.

The new German chancellor said she and Rice agreed that Germany and the United States are "close partners and friends."

But the occasion was quickly shifted to the topics of the alleged CIA flights carrying terrorist suspects across Germany to secret CIA prisons for interrogation with possible torture.

Both of them tried to play down tensions caused by the incident.

Merkel said she had talked with Rice about the issue while Rice noted that the United States "respects the sovereignty of our partners" in the war on terrorism.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will report on the affair to a parliamentary committee, Merkel said.

As Rice refused to discuss in details with reporters, Merkel said she believed there were limits to what information could be provided about the flights.

Rice noted, "We recognize any policy will sometimes result in errors, and when it happens, we will do everything we can to rectify it."

She reiterated that the United States "will use every lawful means" to defend its citizens but does not condone torture.

Many European media organizations recently revealed that the CIA had transported terror suspects across Germany to its secret prisons in Eastern European countries in recent years, causing an uproar within the European Union (EU), which has threatened to sanction any EU member states if they allow such prisons to exist on their territories.

The German government confirmed Monday that it had received a list of 437 CIA flights through Germany.

The Merkel-Rice talks also centered on the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German national who was wrongly arrested and imprisoned by the CIA on suspicion of links to al Qaeda.

Merkel told reporters that the US side admitted making a mistake in the case.

"We are talking about one case where the US has admitted it made a mistake," said Merkel, adding "We have to adhere to the rules of democracy and democratic principles."

But a surprised Rice replied sharply, "I cannot talk about the specifics of the el-Masri case."

She stressed that there would be no public declaration of American guilt from her side.

Rice said that fighting terrorism meant getting to extremists before they could carry out their crimes.

Khaled el-Masri, who was arrested in Macedonia in December 2003,claims to have been handed over to US officials before being flown to Afghanistan.

He was released and returned to Europe five months later after the CIA found he was the wrong man. A German lawyer representing him said Tuesday that El-Masri will file a lawsuit against the CIA in Washington on Wednesday.

Media here say the CIA flights scandal will overshadow Rice's five-day European tour, which will also take her to Romania, Ukraine and Brussels, where she will attend a NATO meeting.

(Xinhua News Agency December 7, 2005)

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Controversy Divides US, Europe
EU Threatens Sanctions for States with Secret CIA Camps
Merkel Makes Overseas Tour to Boost Ties
Germany Not to Change Iraq Policy under Chancellor Merkel
CIA Runs Secret Terrorism Prisons Abroad
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