Berlin plays down row with US over CIA abduction

7th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

7 December 2005, BERLIN - Germany attempted Wednesday to play down a diplomatic row with Washington over the CIA's wrongful seizure of a German national and his transport to Afghanistan for interrogation.

7 December 2005

BERLIN - Germany attempted Wednesday to play down a diplomatic row with Washington over the CIA's wrongful seizure of a German national and his transport to Afghanistan for interrogation.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that her comments Tuesday at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Washington had accepted a mistake had been made in the case of Khaled al-Masri "had validity."

During Tuesday's press conference Rice had insisted that she would not be drawn on specific intelligence matters but admitted that mistakes were sometimes made.

Despite U.S. officials disputing Merkel's account, German officials said there were few differences between her comments and those made by Rice at the Berlin press conference.

The furore over Masri has added to tensions about claims that the CIA operated secret flights across Europe to transport terror suspects to other jurisdictions.

Coming just two weeks after Merkel was sworn in as chancellor, the Masri case and the row over allegations about CIA secret flights represent a setback to her hopes of a fresh start in relations with Washington.

The Rice visit was part of a round of top-level meetings aimed at helping to set the stage for a meeting between Merkel and U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington next month.

The Masri affair has also raised questions about what ministers in the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder knew, if anything, about his case or about the CIA flights.

Indeed, the continuing stream of revelations about the Masri case and the secret CIA flights have increased the pressure on German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was Schroeder's chief of staff when Masri returned to Germany last year.

On Wednesday, a senior German official insisted that Rice had expressed herself more cautiously than Merkel and that the U.S. secretary of state had not contradicted the chancellor.

Karsten Voigt, coordinator of German-U.S. relations, said in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur: "The chancellor mentioned mistakes and explained how her government perceived that. In that way, the matter is settled as far as Germany is concerned."

Since Tuesday's press conference, Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen has moved to take matters into his own hands.

Together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Masri filed a lawsuit Tuesday in a U.S. district court against former CIA director George Tenet.

*sidebar1*Masri, who was arrested in Macedonia in December 2003, claims to have been handed over to CIA officials before being flown to Afghanistan where he was held in a secret prison and tortured.

In her comments at Tuesday's press conference, Rice also insisted that the U.S. respected its international obligations and did not engage in torture.

The Masri lawsuit alleges that he was innocent, that he was never charged with a crime, and that Tenet had been informed of this fact two months before the German was released.

Both Steinmeier and former German Interior Minister Otto Schily are to report to a parliamentary committee on the affair.

DPA

Subject: German news

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