Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, beginning a four-nation European trip, says she hopes U.S. allies can refocus on how to deal with terrorism after a new assurance that CIA tactics in the terror war are lawful and do not involve torture. Ms. Rice will discuss the issue with German leaders including the country's new chancellor, Angela Merkel, Tuesday.
Ms. Rice hopes that the five-page statement defending U.S. intelligence actions in the terror war, issued as she left Washington Monday, will at least to some degree defuse the political controversy in Europe over CIA tactics.
However the issue is expected to be a major agenda item in talks at all four of her European stops and it dominated the Secretary's in-flight news conference with correspondents traveling with her to Berlin.
In the statement, a response to a formal European Union query, Ms. Rice again refused to confirm or deny news reports of secret CIA detention sites in Europe or covert detainee flights to and from Europe.
But she defended the so-called rendition of terrorist suspects by intelligence agencies outside of normal extradition procedures, and said CIA practices have not violated the laws or international obligations of the United States, or the sovereignty of countries with which the United States has anti-terrorism cooperation.
She also said the United States does not permit or condone torture, nor she said, would it transport any detainees to countries where U.S. officials believed they would face torture.
In the airborne talk with reporters, Ms. Rice stressed the same points and said she hopes her talks in Europe will shift the debate back to the extraordinary challenge to law enforcement posed by terrorists, and the need to, if possible, pre-empt their attacks.
"I do hope that this trip will give us a chance to refocus on what it is that we are trying to do, to remind ourselves and our populations that there are difficult choices, and difficult circumstances that we have not faced before in this war on terrorism, and that that's what we need to concentrate on," said Ms. Rice. "It's why I want to give the assurances that we are a country of laws, that we are doing everything lawfully, because the president would never ask American citizens to behave unlawfully."
The European Union formally requested U.S. clarification of CIA activities last week, saying news reports of the detention sites and European flights indicated possible violations of international law. Reports the CIA conducted hundreds of secret flights through Germany have touched off an intense political debate here.
Ms. Rice's meeting Tuesday with Chancellor Merkel, the first senior-level U.S. contact with the new German coalition government, will also cover Afghanistan and the European nuclear negotiations with Iran.
The secretary goes on to Bucharest later in the day, where she has talks with President Traian Basescu and signs a defense agreement opening a Romanian military base for U.S. training exercises. The trip also includes stops in Kiev, and Brussels for a NATO foreign ministers meeting.