When she heads to Europe for a five-day visit next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will face a barrage of questions about alleged secret CIA prisons for terror suspects.
Did the CIA covertly fly detainees through European airports?
As Condoleeza Rice prepares for a trip to Germany, Romania, Ukraine and Brussels for a NATO meeting, the US is under mounting pressure to come clean about reports of "black site" prisons in Europe.
Media allegations of an underground network of secret prisons and possible torture of undeclared terrorism suspects show no sign of letting up.
Brussels has threatened sanctions against any EU states found to have been operating these clandestine jails or allowing their territory to be used for the transport of "ghost detainees," while a number of EU parliamentarians have accused European leaders of failing to call the Bush Administration to account.
Stateme n t expected
Time to answer the charges
But speaking in Washington after meeting the Secretary of State Thursday, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said Rice intends to make a statement on the row when she visits Europe next week.
Ireland is among the countries concerned that its airports were used by the Central Intelligence Agency in transporting prisoners to undisclosed European destinations.
Ahern said Rice had told him she would answer a formal query from the European Union on the reports, but said the top US envoy would also make it "quite clear that as far as Americans are concerned, they have not infringed any international human rights laws in relation to this."
Goi n g o n the offe n sive
On Thursday, the State Department released a letter from Britain asking, as acting EU president, for clarification of the media reports "suggesting violations of international law" in its detention and transport of terror suspects to foreign states for interrogation, which is known as rendition.
Spokesman Sean McCormack defended the US renditions policy Wednesday.
"As a theoretical legal matter, I understand the practice of renditions is one that is recognized by the international system," he said.
A priority issue
Rice's tour, beginning Monday, will also include a get-acquainted meeting with the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is expected to focus on repairing the two countries' damaged relations after the Iraq war.
Human rights group say secret detention can lead to torture
The secret prisons controversy is the latest test of the still-fragile trans-Atlantic relationship, and has fanned the flames of Europe's concern at US detainee policies as evidenced in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will be preceding Rice to Germany, meeting next Wednesday and Thursday with Merkel and members of parliament.