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Rice concedes mistakes in pursuing terrorists, again denies torture

BUCHAREST, Romania—Pressed by European governments for an explanation of reported secret CIA-run terrorist prisons and covert overflights, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a little ground Tuesday. But not much.

Rice acknowledged that the United States occasionally makes mistakes as it pursues terrorists around the globe to try to stop new attacks. But she declined to say what those mistakes are or to apologize for the mistaken detention of a German man who spent five months in an Afghan prison.

She said U.S. personnel didn't conduct torture anywhere in the world. But she didn't define torture or address loopholes in that policy that Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director Porter Goss and other Bush administration officials have sought.

In the Romanian capital, she signed an agreement that will establish a permanent U.S. military presence for the first time in a country that once belonged to the Cold War-era Warsaw Pact.

She didn't address allegations that Romania hosted a CIA-run facility for top al-Qaida detainees, perhaps even at one of the bases where 1,500 U.S. troops soon will deploy.

"I've said and I will say again that I am not going to talk about whether such activities take place, because to do so would clearly be to get into a realm of discussion about supposed or purported intelligence activities, and I just simply won't do that," Rice said.

Rice, who as White House national security adviser mirrored President Bush's national security policies, now finds herself having to smooth the rough edges of those policies.

It remains to be seen whether her creative ambiguity—along with a forceful argument that U.S. intelligence activities help save European lives—will calm feelings among Europe's public.

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot told his country's Parliament that Rice's explanations were unsatisfactory, and he predicted a lively debate when NATO's foreign ministers, including Rice, meet Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, according to Dutch news reports.

"The idea that the United States' war on terror protects us all isn't selling very well in Europe right now," said Dick Leurdijk, a senior fellow at the Dutch research center Clingendael. "Europeans question whether Iraq has made the world a safer place."

Aboard her flight from Washington on Monday, Rice said that U.S. personnel, whether at home or abroad, must comply with American and international law, including a ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under the Convention Against Torture.

Rice's aides called it the clearest statement to date that the United States won't permit torture.

There were indications Tuesday that European leaders want to believe her. While they're under pressure to placate their publics, some no doubt would like the issue of how intelligence agencies deal with suspected terrorists to go away.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference with Rice: "I am very grateful ... that she has reiterated that America stands by its international commitments, that it stands by its rejection of torture and that it adheres to the laws of the United States of America."

In Romania—which like many Eastern European countries is still grateful to the United States for helping to defeat communism—local reporters asked Rice about the new base deal, not the reported CIA prison.

When an American journalist broached the subject, President Traian Basescu denied that Romania allowed such facilities on its soil.

"There were no such detention centers," he said. "Whoever has suspicions, accusations, please come to Romania."

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Matthew Schofield contributed to this report from Berlin.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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