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Rice plans trip to Germany, other European countries

Rice plans trip to Germany, other European countries



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Washington (dap) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Germany this month for her first meeting with Angela Merkel since the new German leader was sworn into office.

Merkel has vowed to forge closer ties with the United States than those under the leader of former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was narrowly defeated by Merkel and her Christian Democrats in September elections.

Schroeder was a leading international voice against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Prior to Rice's trip, her deputy, Robert Zoellick, will fly to Germany for a meeting with Merkel on Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Rice departs for Europe December 5 and will also visit Romania, Ukraine and Belgium, he said.

Rice will conduct her first meeting with Germany's new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Tuesday in Washington.

Despite the push for closer relations, Steinmeier, Schroeder's former top aide whose Social Democrats are in a governing coalition with Merkel, has vowed to raise the issue of the U.S. conducting secret flights through Germany to carry suspects in the war on terrorism.

The issue could cloud the prospect for improving a relationship that soured over the invasion of Iraq.

McCormack said Rice will address any questions that come up in her meetings about such flights and "so-called" secret CIA prisons. Reports of the clandestine prisons and flights have been the focus of a formal E.U. inquiry.

"We have received inquiries from Europe concerning these press reports," McCormack said. "We're going to do our best to answer these questions in as complete and forthright a manner as we possible can."

"If the topic does come up in any of the secretary's meetings, whether it's here in the United States or in Europe, she will be prepared to discuss these issues," McCormack said.

Other topics on Rice's agenda include halting Iran's nuclear weapons programme, McCormack said. Germany, along with France and Britain, have led E.U. negotiations with Iran over the dispute.

Rice is also interested in hearing the foreign policy agenda for the new German government.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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