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NATO Chief: Rice 'Cleared the Air' on Detainee Charges


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has briefed NATO and European Union colleagues on the Bush administration response to allegations the CIA has abused terrorism suspects and had secret detention sites in Europe. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says Ms. Rice's explanation has cleared the air between Washington and its allies.

The issue of alleged abuse of detainees has dominated Ms. Rice's agenda in Brussels as well as at her previous stops in Berlin, Bucharest, and Kiev. And both U.S. and European officials say her explanations have, to some degree, eased international concern about U.S. detention practices.

The secretary began the trip with the release Monday of a detailed statement asserting that the United States does not permit, tolerate or condone torture, nor would it transport terror detainees to countries where U.S. officials believed they would be tortured.

While refusing to confirm or deny the existence of CIA detention sites, she also said the United States has not violated the sovereignty of countries cooperating in U.S. anti-terrorism operations.

She has elaborated on the statement in meetings with European leaders capped late Wednesday by a private dinner with foreign ministers of the 32 member-countries of NATO and the European Union.

A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters said Ms. Rice left the event satisfied over what he said had been a serious discussion about the dilemma posed by terrorism, one that was free of political cheap shots and posturing.

Later at a news conference capping Friday's NATO foreign ministers meeting, alliance Secretary-General Scheffer said the controversy in Europe over the issue has eased.

"I think it was a good discussion I think it cleared the air," he said. "I think Secretary Rice made a strong intervention. And it was in the framework of the political dialogue, the trans-Atlantic political dialogue, we all so value. I think it was quite logical and natural that this subject was discussed at the dinner yesterday."

Ms. Rice followed the NATO chief to the podium, saying she was appreciative of the support she received from European counterparts.

She said the United States is a nation of laws and that the Bush administration is not going to ask U.S. citizens to violate the law or America's international obligations. But she also said future abuse scandals cannot be ruled out.

"Will there be abuses of policy? That is entirely possible, because just because you are a democracy does not mean you are perfect. We saw in Iraq at Abu Ghraib [prison] under the traditional framework of the Geneva Convention that we had actions that were outside of U.S. policy. And those actions were investigated, investigated thoroughly, and people have been punished," she noted. "That is the only promise that we can make to people, which is that if we find abuses we will investigate them thoroughly and punish them."

Several European foreign ministers told reporters they were reassured by the secretary's public and private remarks, including Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose government has been particularly critical of U.S. policy.

But neither European nor U.S. officials say they expect the issue to quickly go away, given among other things the United States' refusal to directly deal with charges of the CIA European detention sites and overflights.

The 46-nation Council of Europe says it continues an investigation of the alleged secret prisons, while the New York-based Human Rights Watch says Ms. Rice's statements, including a policy clarification Wednesday in Kiev, still have not answered key questions about the treatment of U.S. detainees.

A Human Rights Watch spokesman said a ban on cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners should be more than a policy, which could be changed by the administration at anytime. The group is supporting efforts in Congress to have specific prohibitions written into U.S. law.

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