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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 18:30 GMT
Rice allays CIA prison row fears
Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice's tour of Europe has been dogged by the row
European ministers are satisfied with Condoleezza Rice's explanation on the issue of alleged secret CIA prisons overseas, Nato and EU officials say.

The US secretary of state's European tour has been dogged by reports the US secretly transported and held terror suspects using European locations.

She says US interrogators are banned from using torture at home and abroad.

US Congress members who campaigned on the issue say it is a major concession. The White House denies a policy shift.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, visiting the White House, said President George Bush had assured him the US had no policy of torture and respected international laws and conventions.

He added that he was happy Ms Rice had made her trip to Europe to "take the heat" over the allegations.

'Not perfect'

Ms Rice re-iterated that the US did not practise or condone torture, but said she could not rule out future abuse scandals.

"Will there be abuses of policy? That's entirely possible," Ms Rice said at a news conference.

"Just because you're a democracy it doesn't mean that you're perfect."

How far should we go to prevent another 9/11?
Phillip Dressel, St. Louis, USA

However, she pledged that any abuses would be investigated and violators punished.

Meanwhile, a senior lawyer for the state department has said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) does not have access to all detainees held by the US.

The ICRC wants access to all foreign terror suspects held by the country.

John Bellinger said the group had access to "absolutely everybody" at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

When asked by journalists if the organisation had access to everybody held in similar circumstances elsewhere, he said "No".

'Very satisfactory'

Nato and EU foreign ministers met Ms Rice behind closed-doors on Wednesday evening, ahead of a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels.

They said Ms Rice had assured them that the US did not interpret international humanitarian law differently from its allies.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the meeting was "very satisfactory for all of us".

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, one of those most concerned by the issue, also said he was "very satisfied".

On Wednesday, Ms Rice stressed that all American interrogators were bound by the UN Convention on Torture, whether they worked in the US or abroad.

The Bush administration has previously said the convention, which bans cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, does not apply to US personnel abroad.

Ms Rice's comments were welcomed by members of Congress who are currently pushing through legislation, proposed by Republican Senator John McCain - a former prisoner of war - that would tighten the rules on the treatment of foreign terrorism suspects.

The White House has resisted attempts for the CIA to be bound by any new legislation on interrogation practices.

But Ms Rice's new approach suggests these efforts might have been abandoned, says the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington.

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