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Rice Calms European Critics of CIA Secret Prisons

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday appeared to have made her European partners satisfied by assuring them that the United States' treatment of detainees was within international law.

"We are a nation of laws. The president of the United States is not going to ask American citizens to violate US law or to violate our international obligations," Rice told a press conference after the one-day NATO foreign ministers' gathering.

The controversy over secret CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) prisons and US detainee policy dominated the meeting here to approve a plan for the NATO-led security force to send as many as 6,000 troops to begin patrolling the southern part of Afghanistan, relieving some of the burden on US troops.

Rice told reporters that the United States did not practice or condone torture, but said she could not rule out future abuse scandals.

"Will there be abuses of policy? That's entirely possible. Just because you're a democracy it doesn't mean that you're perfect," she said.

However, she pledged that any abuses would be investigated and violators punished. "That is the only promise we can make," Rice said.

On another press conference, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Rice had "cleared the air" after discussing the issue with European Union (EU) foreign ministers at a working dinner on Wednesday.

"You will not see this discussion continuing at NATO," he said, adding that he considered the issue closed.

Meanwhile, European foreign ministers also shifted away from a confrontation with Washington. Officials at the meeting said that reactions from participating European Union (EU) ministers had been reconciliatory.

"I think NATO and EU ministers were able to raise their concerns that we should not diverge from one another on the interpretation of international law", German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a press conference.

"Secretary Rice promised that international agreements are not interpreted any differently in the United States than they are in Europe. That, at least, is a good statement," he added.

Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot, who earlier this week accused the US of not being able to give a satisfactory answer to European concerns over CIA operations, on Thursday said that he was "very satisfied" with Rice's responses.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht also told Belgian radio that she had the impression that all ministers generally welcomed Ms Rice's explanations.

EU member states have persistently denied knowledge of secret CIA activities on their soils or at their airports, although reports have not stopped coming in about CIA operations in Europe since the allegations were broken by The Washington Post last month.

The Guardian says that there have been 300 flights in total. But German magazine Spiegel puts this figure even higher, at 437 flights, which it says may have been implicated in the practice of "extra-legal rendition" - the seizure of terror suspects.

The American TV station ABC announced at the beginning of this week that the US governments maintained secret prison camps in Romania and Poland until late last month, and closed them only when the allegations hit the press.

Romania and Poland, however, denied any knowledge of US prison camps on their soil, despite allegations that they have hosted them.

(Xinhua News Agency December 9, 2005)

UN Official Criticizes US for Eroding Ban on Torture
CIA Secret Flight Scandal Dominates Merkel, Rice Meeting
Romania Demands Evidence of CIA Secret Prisons
Controversy Divides US, Europe
EU Threatens Sanctions for States with Secret CIA Camps
CIA Runs Secret Terrorism Prisons Abroad
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