Merkel says US 'admits mistake' in seizing German
6 December 2005, BERLIN - A tightly choreographed briefing by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suffered a glitch Tuesday when the German leader Merkel declared Washington had admitted an intelligence failure that led to CIA seizure of a German national.
6 December 2005
BERLIN - A tightly choreographed briefing by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suffered a glitch Tuesday when the German leader Merkel declared Washington had admitted an intelligence failure that led to CIA seizure of a German national.
The Merkel-Rice talks - a meeting of two of the most powerful women in the world - had been billed as kicking off a bid to improve Germany's ties with the U.S. which were damaged by former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's use of opposition to the Iraq war to win re-election in 2002.
Merkel, who makes her first visit as Chancellor to Washington next month, said talks with Rice were a "tour d'horizon" covering key global issues including Iran's nuclear programme, the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But it was CIA flights carrying suspected terrorists - over 400 of which have used German airports according to Berlin - which dominated the press briefing and overshadowed the Merkel-Rice message of improving German-American ties.
There is a deepening political row over the case of a German national, Khaled el-Masri who was arrested in Macedonia in December 2003 and claims to have been handed over to U.S. officials before being drugged and flown to Afghanistan where he says he was tortured.
El-Masri was returned to Europe five months later after the CIA realized it had grabbed the wrong man.
Rice said that errors can occur in the exercise of policy and that Washington would do everything to rectify them. But she declined to comment in detail saying it would be up to courts to reach a judgment.
"The U.S. does not condone torture," said Rice adding that participating or planning torture was banned under American law.
Rice also refused to comment on reports that secret prisons for terror suspects, allegedly operated by U.S. intelligence in Poland and Romania, were closed just ahead of her trip to Europe. Both Romania and Poland deny that such prisons exist.
But Merkel, who pledged a confidential report on El-Masri to a closed-door parliamentary committee, was far more blunt.
"We are talking about one case where the U.S. has admitted it made a mistake," said Merkel, adding: "We have to adhere to the rules of democracy and democratic principles."
A seemingly surprised Rice was quick to underline there would be no public declaration of American guilt from her side.
"I cannot talk about the specifics of the El-Masri case," was her tart observation.
Rice said that fighting terrorism meant getting to extremists before they could carry out their crimes.
"This is essentially a war in which intelligence is absolutely key to success," Rice said. "We have an obligation to protect our people and we will use any lawful means to do so."
Merkel sought to strike a balance between public anger in Germany over what is widely seen as a U.S. kidnapping of El-Masri and the need for preventive intelligence operations to fight terror.
Germany, she said, believed it was possible to strike a balance between alliance obligations and respect for national and international law.
Rice was leaving Germany on Tuesday and is due to make stops in Romania, Ukraine and Belgium.
Subject: German news