The State Department said Monday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be prepared to address reports of alleged secret CIA prison camps when she visits Europe next week. The Bush administration has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such facilities, but acknowledges receiving European inquiries about them.
Ms. Rice's trip next week to Germany, Romania, Ukraine, and to Belgium for a NATO foreign ministers meeting, will be the first since reports of the alleged prison camps surfaced in U.S. newspapers.
While holding to its refusal to discuss the substance of the news accounts, the State Department is acknowledging multiple European inquiries about the issue, and says Ms. Rice is prepared to discuss them in as complete and forthright a manner as she possibly can.
The reports, that the CIA has been holding terrorist suspects in one or more Eastern European countries and conducted flights carrying suspected Islamic extremists to and from the alleged facilities, have caused a political uproar in Europe.
The Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly has launched an inquiry into the matter, and European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini Monday threatened sanctions against any EU member country housing such facilities.
Mr. Frattini said the European Union had contacted the White House several days ago but gotten no formal assurances the reports are untrue.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said there have been European inquiries about reports of what he termed the "so-called secret prisons" and associated flights.
He said if the topic comes up during her European trip or in planned talks with European officials this week, Secretary Rice will be prepared to address it as fully as she can.
The spokesman said such a discussion would take place within the broader context of how democracies are to deal with the dilemma posed by terrorism.
"This is a struggle that all free countries, including the countries of Europe, share with us," he said. "How to deal with groups of people, individuals, that respect no law, that wear no uniform, that follow no regulations. And how do we as a country, and how do we as countries that abide by the rule of law, that abide by our international obligations, abide by our constitutions, how do we deal with that? So I'm certain that she will be prepared, if the topic does come up, to discuss it."
Mr. McCormack said he could offer no details on what the response of Ms. Rice or other administration officials might be to the European inquiries.
While not dealing with the alleged prison camps, Bush administration spokesmen have flatly denied the United States is engaged in the torture of terrorist suspects.
They have also insisted the United States is living up to international obligations with regard to the treatment of prisoners and noted the access the International Red Cross, members of Congress and others have had to the U.S. detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base.
Secretary Rice is due to meet at the State Department Tuesday with the new German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and later in the week with Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern.
Mr. Rice will be preceded to Europe by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who goes to Germany Wednesday for meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other members of the new government in Berlin.