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U.S. blasts Italy's hostage exchange

Story Highlights

• Italy freed five Taliban prisoners in exchange for release of a journalist
• U.S. criticized deal as making concessions to terrorists
• Taliban said the journalist confessed to spying for the British, Reuters reported
• Daniele Mastrogiacomo was taken hostage by Taliban on March 5
From Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is criticizing Italy for its deal to free five Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of an Italian journalist.

The State Department said the move to free Daniele Mastrogiacomo amounts to making concessions to terrorists that could increase the risk for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The United States has long maintained that negotiating with terrorists would only embolden them to commit more kidnappings.

Mastrogiacomo, a correspondent for the Italian daily La Repubblica, was released Monday, two weeks after he was taken hostage by the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand. (Full story)

The Taliban said Mastrogiacomo had confessed to spying for the British, according to Reuters, but he made no mention of that in a video message in which he called for the Italian government to "do anything possible" to free him and the two Afghan colleagues kidnapped with him.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by phone with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema about the exchange, following a flurry of diplomatic activity between Washington and Rome.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has come under fire for the deal he negotiated with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to free Mastrogiacomo in return for the release of five Taliban prisoners in Afghan custody.

The United States has long maintained that negotiating with terrorists would only embolden them to commit more kidnappings.

While the State Department described Rice's phone call with her Italian counterpart Wednesday as "cordial," spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement released Thursday that the United States stressed to the Italian government during the kidnapping crisis that "the United States does not support hostage exchanges or other concessions to terrorists."

"Given the increased threat created for all of us who have people on the ground in places like Afghanistan, we expect that concessions will not be made in the future," he said.

"The concern, I think, is obvious in that you have individuals who are potentially quite dangerous who have been released from prison," he told reporters Thursday.





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