New German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said he is concerned about reports that CIA aircraft have used German airports while transporting prisoners to alleged secret prison camps.
Steinmeier makes his first official visit to the US Monday
"What we have read is in fact grounds for concern," Steinmeier said in an interview with the weekly Bild am Sonntag published Sunday, one day before he is to travel to the United States.
Steinmeier welcomed a request made by his British counterpart Jack Straw to Washington on behalf of the European Union for an explanation of the accounts and said he would reserve judgment until an answer was received.
"A foreign minister must evaluate the facts and not newspaper reports," he said.
Germany has already opened an investigation into a case in which an Egyptian suspect was reportedly secretly transported via Ramstein in western Germany, the largest US air base in Europe.
Public broadcaster ZDF and several newspapers have reported that more than 80 secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) flights touched down in Germany en route to secret centers where suspects, held without charge as "enemy combatants," were allegedly interrogated and tortured.
Off to New York, Washington
Romanian police patrol the area around a US Airforce plane
A US newspaper report claimed early this month that the CIA was holding al Qaeda terror group suspects in prisons in eight countries including Thailand, Afghanistan and "several democracies in eastern Europe."
US-based independent watchdog Human Rights Watch said later it was "practically convinced" that such centers existed, at least in Poland and Romania.
German officials from across the political spectrum urged Steinmeier to take up the issue in talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the White House assistant for national security affairs, Stephen Hadley, in Washington on Tuesday.
Steinmeier's two-day US visit, his first as foreign minister under new conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, will start in New York on Monday with a meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and leading representatives of Jewish organizations.