Rice 'clears air' over CIA secret prison suspicions

9th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Dec 8 (AFP) - European ministers voiced satisfaction Thursday with Condoleezza Rice's reassurances about alleged secret CIA prisons, in a relief for the embattled US secretary of state after a Europe tour clouded by the row.

BRUSSELS, Dec 8 (AFP) - European ministers voiced satisfaction Thursday with Condoleezza Rice's reassurances about alleged secret CIA prisons, in a relief for the embattled US secretary of state after a Europe tour clouded by the row.

Rice welcomed the appreciative comments following days of intense questioning about the controversy, while conceding that it might take longer to allay public concerns in Europe.

"It was a good discussion. I think it cleared the air," said NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, referring to a dinner Wednesday night gathering Rice with her NATO and EU colleagues.

A number of ministers indicated that the dinner had eased their concerns over allegations the CIA used European airports during the transport of terror suspects to covert prison facilities or countries where they might be tortured.

"Very satisfied," said Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, who had been one of the most concerned before the talks, when asked if he was happy with Rice's explanations.

Rice arrived here Wednesday after stops in Germany, Romania and Ukraine. But the Brussels stop risked being the most difficult because the European Union's British presidency had asked for formal clarification.

In an attempt to preempt pressure in Brussels, Rice made a statement on the torture issue shortly before arriving.

She said Washington's obligations under an international convention prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment "extend to US personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the US or outside the US."

She made the point again in Brussels, telling reporters: "We recognize our obligations, our policy recognizes our obligations, whether activities are undertaken inside the United States or outside the United States."

In theory, the Brussels talks could have descended into a tense stand-off. But European ministers who spoke to reporters afterwards all gave the impression that the issue had been clarified.

Wednesday's dinner was "very satisfactory for all of us," said Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier, adding that the Europeans had "voiced their concerns that there should not be a different interpretation of international law."

Rice welcomed the comments. "I appreciate the supportive comments that a number of colleagues have made. I appreciate the fact that people recognize the dilemmas we face," she said.

But asked if she thought European public opinion would be convinced, she conceded that could take longer.

"I think that it's only natural that sometimes we have these discussions. Questions, concerns arise, we should discuss them in a serious way among friends," she said.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, however, was reserved, saying only that Paris "takes note" of Washington's explanations.

"France in any case is fully committed to respecting international conventions," he told reporters, although he also stressed that the Americans were "our friends."

The focus of the NATO talks was a deal to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into Afghanistan's more volatile south, where the US is keen for NATO to ease pressure on its stretched forces.

NATO, which took command of ISAF in 2003, has extended the force's presence progressively from Kabul into the north and then the west this year. Eventually it is expected to cover the whole of Afghanistan.

But the only questions for Rice at her sole press conference were about the CIA prisons row.

A US official said Rice had started a "dialogue" with European counterparts on the issue, adding that there was "no table thumping."

"There was no posturing, fiery denunciations, table thumping, playing to the gallery or anything like that. It was a serious discussion of the issues," said the official.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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