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Ahern: U.S. denies Irish CIA role

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

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Ahern told reporters he raised the CIA issue in his meeting with Rice.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has denied that Ireland's Shannon International Airport was used by the Central Intelligence Agency in transporting prisoners to secret European destinations, the Irish foreign minister said Thursday.

After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern told reporters that he raised the issue of reports the CIA has detained and interrogated terrorist suspects in secret Soviet-style prisons in Eastern Europe and has flown terror suspects through European airports, including Shannon.

Rice offered "categorical assurances that prisoners have not gone through Shannon" and that "Shannon has not been used for anything untoward," Ahern said.

He said Rice's comments echoed what he had been told by the U.S. Embassy in Dublin.

"We totally accept these categorical assurances as a friendly and sovereign nation," he said.

Shannon International is commonly used as a transit point for U.S. government officials and military troops. Irish officials said the use of the airport by the U.S. government has been a source of controversy in the Irish parliament since the start of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

When reports of abuse of detainees by U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay surfaced last year, officials said, the Irish government had sought assurances that Shannon was not being used as part of renditions -- putting prisoners in the hands of other governments.

Ahern said the Irish government "would be very concerned and the Irish people would be very concerned if Shannon was used in any way that would infringe" upon internationally accepted human rights standards.

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Boeing 737 with registration number N313P, which was allegedly used by CIA to transport Islamic terror suspects, takes off from San Joan Palma de Mallorca airport in Spain.

"We would take action if we thought that was the case," he said, adding that Rice "clearly said the U.S. has not infringed upon international human rights laws."

Similar assurances

Ahern said Washington had given similar assurances to the U.S. Embassy in Dublin and to Irish officials at the Irish Embassy in Washington after reports of prisoners being sent to secret locations first surfaced in the Washington Post last month.

Amid growing outrage throughout Europe about the allegations, the Bush administration agreed this week to respond to formal requests from the European Union for clarification.

So far the Bush administration has refused to confirm or deny the allegations about secret prisons.

Ahern said that Rice told him she would be addressing the matter while in Europe next week. She is scheduled to visit Romania, which has been named by Human Rights Watch as a likely site for one of secret prisons. Rice will also visit with EU leaders in Brussels and meet with new Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

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