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Europeans Question Rice on Torture

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Europeans Question Rice on Torture

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Europeans Question Rice on Torture

Europeans Question Rice on Torture

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives to hold a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 8. Reuters hide caption

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Reuters

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attends a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers, called to discuss the alliance's involvement in Afghanistan. But Rice's trip has been dominated by criticism of America's global counter-terrorism operations.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Brussels today. It's her final stop on a four-nation tour of Europe that has been dominated by criticism of America's global counterterrorism operations. At a press conference earlier today, she responded again to criticism.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Department of State): Around the world we are talking to people about the importance of the rule of law, and so we have to also live with the--under the rule of law. We have an obligation also in these difficult times to protect our citizens.

MONTAGNE: Secretary Rice is attending a NATO meeting with other foreign ministers aimed originally at negotiating getting more NATO troops in Afghanistan. NPR's Rachel Martin is in Brussels this morning.

And good morning.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Secretary Rice met with those NATO ministers last night and again today. Did they end up addressing the Bush administration's treatment of terrorist suspects?

MARTIN: Well, they did, and Secretary Rice was actually the first to broach the issue during a private dinner last night with NATO foreign ministers. Secretary Rice said that meeting was a good opportunity to talk frankly about the dilemmas that face the United States and its allies in the fight against terrorism. Today, the secretary talked to the press and she reiterated the message that she's attempted to drive home during the entire trip, that the United States does not use torture and that it upholds its international obligations. But when she was asked if she was concerned that her statement denying the use of torture by the US would come back to haunt her at some point, the secretary said that abuses will happen and that just because you're a democracy doesn't mean you're perfect.

MONTAGNE: And have European leaders who have been critical been satisfied with what she's had to say at this NATO meeting?

MARTIN: Well, there had been widespread criticism of Rice's trip around Europe, with many leaders saying that she just wasn't giving the kinds of concrete answers that they wanted to hear about US counterterrorism operations in Europe. There seems to have been a bit of a shift after initial meetings. Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told reporters that he thought the meeting was a good chance for European leaders to raise their concerns, that the US and the EU need to stay on the same page when it comes to defining international law. And he said he was satisfied with comments by Rice that the US does not interpret international agreements differently than Europe does. That matters because some human rights advocates in Europe have said that the United States does not use the same definition of torture as defined by international human rights conventions.

MONTAGNE: Still, despite all the statements that she has made this week, Rice has refused to comment specifically about allegations of CIA secret prisons being maintained outside the United States.

MARTIN: She has. She has carefully avoided commenting on the existence of these alleged black sites in Poland and Romania. Europe's leading human rights group, the Council of Europe, is investigating the presence of such facilities, and before Rice arrived in Brussels, the Council of Europe said it had been granted permission to see satellite images of the sites--of the alleged sites, rather, in Romania and Poland as part of its investigation. Poland and Romania are both very keen to be seen as cooperating with the investigation. Poland counts itself as a loyal ally to America and still has 1,400 troops in Iraq. But they both have European relationships to be concerned with as well. The European Commission has said that any EU member which has hosted secret CIA prisons could see its voting rights suspended. Poland is the newest member of the EU and Romania is hoping to join the European Union in 2007.

MONTAGNE: And, finally, Rachel, this NATO meeting was not intended to focus on America's counterterrorism efforts. Actually, top of the agenda was Afghanistan, right?

MARTIN: Indeed. And there was some news on that front. NATO foreign ministers endorsed a plan to go ahead with the expansion of NATO troops in Afghanistan. Till now, NATO troops have been isolated to Kabul, the capital, and relatively safer parts of the country. With this plan, now NATO troops will expand to the more volatile southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. Ministers also addressed a range of strategic concerns, including Israel and Palestine, efforts to stabilize the Balkans and training missions in Iraq--so a range of issues. But the issue of US detainees is not going away, and Secretary Rice said she'd open a dialogue that she'd be willing to continue as Europe and the United States work out the pragmatic details of their partnership in the fight against terrorism.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, NPR's Rachel Martin at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

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