Condoleezza Rice opens Europe visit with talks with German foreign minister

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opened a four-nation European trip Tuesday, meeting with her German counterpart amid questions of whether the U.S. keeps terrorist suspects in secret prisons that violate European legal and human rights guarantees. Rice and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier shook hands for the cameras after a short meeting but made no statements. Rice was to meet later in the day with new Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel's government is largely seen as more pro-U.S. than the previous regime of Gerhard Schroeder, but the visit has been overshadowed by allegations that the CIA held terror suspects at secret jails in Europe and transported prisoners on flights that made stops in the region.

European governments have expressed outrage over reports of the jails where prisoners may have been harshly treated.

Before she left Washington, Rice said the United States does not practice torture or knowingly transport any prisoner to a place "where he or she will be tortured." Merkel's spokesman said the chancellor would talk with Rice about the issue.

There are also questions in Germany about whether Washington informed the previous Berlin government that undercover U.S. operatives had mistakenly detained a German citizen.

Rice's trip to Germany, Romania, Ukraine and Belgium is meant to build on generally improved relations between Europe and the United States after strains over Iraq. The war remains widely unpopular in Europe, as does U.S. President George W. Bush, reports the AP. I.L.

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