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THE HUNT FOR AL QAEDA

U.S. and EU Pursue a Deal on Extraditions

Diplomacy: The talks in Denmark also focus on issues such as fighting crime and terrorism.

September 15, 2002|From Reuters

COPENHAGEN — European Union justice ministers and U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft discussed a deal on extraditions in talks here Saturday that included issues such as fighting crime and terrorism.

The Bush administration is concerned that the lack of extradition agreements with a number of EU countries, which object to the U.S. use of the death penalty, could prevent it from bringing terrorist suspects to face trial in the United States.

Ashcroft said EU and U.S. legal experts had made progress in the early stages of the extradition talks, but EU diplomats said Saturday's unprecedented discussions in Denmark had not been able to fully debate the death penalty issue.

"The issues are not simple, nor do I predict there will easily be solutions.... Complex things require protracted, persistent and persevering efforts," Ashcroft told a news conference after the meeting.

The EU pledged to work more closely with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. But EU opposition to extradition in cases where a U.S. conviction could mean the death penalty or life in prison without parole for an EU citizen remains an obstacle to a blanket deal between the bloc and the United States.

The EU opposes the death penalty, which is still imposed in many U.S. states, including Texas, where President Bush was once governor.

Underlying U.S. concerns is the fact that some of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks--as well as recently captured suspect Ramzi Binalshibh--had been based in Germany. The German government has issued an arrest warrant for Binalshibh, captured last week in Pakistan.

In addition, the Dutch justice minister said the United States was "very interested" in a Kurdish man who was arrested in Amsterdam last week and is suspected of links to Al Qaeda. And Italy said Thursday that it had arrested 15 people it linked to the terrorist network.

But Swedish Justice Minister Thomas Bodstrom said he and other EU ministers had voiced concerns over the death penalty, the treatment of Europeans held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Washington's refusal to join the International Criminal Court.

He said it was important for Europe to remain united in voicing its concerns to prevent undermining civil liberties in what the United States calls the "war on terrorism."

U.S. officials have said Washington may not be ready to offer blanket guarantees to the EU on the death penalty.

Germany, Portugal, Greece and Austria have told their EU partners that they have constitutional problems with extradition.

The EU also wants an agreement on legal cooperation with Washington that could lead to joint investigations.

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