Europe, US at odds over data privacy, rendition, and Iran nukes

The United States and Europe appear to be headed for a showdown in a number of key areas in the war on terror.

Europeans are increasingly concerned about the US's use of the airline and banking data of European citizens in terrorist profiling. A German court has ordered the arrest of 13 Americans, presumed to be CIA agents, in the "extraordinary rendition" of a German citizen who was later found not to have any connections to terrorism. And European diplomats and politicians are increasingly nervous that the US plans to launch a military strike on Iran, which Europeans largely believe would create only greater problems in the Middle East.

The BBC reports that the European Union is planning to "voice concerns" over the use of data on airline passengers and bank transaction in a US antiterrorist profiling system. Late last year it was discovered that Swift, a private company which handles money transfers, had been giving information to the US in violation of European Union privacy laws.

Members of the EU parliament want to know if the information was fed into the US Automated Targeting System (ATS), which profiles possible terrorism suspects. If so, such measures would fall outside the agreements reached between Europe and the US on how to handle data.

"The European Parliament is fully supportive of proper co-operation across the Atlantic in fighting terrorism... What we don't accept is that there should be misuse of data," Liberal MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford told BBC World Service radio's World Today programme.

She said that ATS went "way beyond anything we had been led to understand the information would be used for".

The Associated Press reports that the EU justice and security commissioner has sent a letter to the US government seeking assurances that European data put into the ATS conforms to an interim agreement reached between the two parties in October of 2006.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that EU officials had said that they were satisfied with Washington's explanation of the data use, but privacy advocates in the US and Europe wrote letters to EU privacy commissioners saying that the way the US used the data was a " direct contravention" of the October agreement. Their complaints sparked the EU parliament's decision to look into the matter.

Meanwhile, The Times of London reports that a German prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for 13 Americans, who are believed to be members of the CIA, for their role in the kidnapping and "extraordinary rendition" of a German citizen in Macedonia.

Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld, a prosecutor from Munich, said that the warrants were issued in connection with the so-called "extraordinary rendition" of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, who claims he was kidnapped by US agents on the Macedonian border in 2003.

The case of Mr al-Masri is the best known of several individual allegations against the CIA, which is accused by human rights campaigners of secretly ferrying hundreds of terrorism suspects to detention facilities around the world, often in countries where torture is routine.

The Times also reports that the case has "brought a chill" to the once warm relationship between President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In 2005, Ms. Merkel said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apologized to her for the incident. The US government has "strenuously denied" making such a statement.

In May last year, the Justice Department invoked the rarely used state secrets privilege to have Mr al-Masri's allegations dismissed from civil court. "There is no way that the case can go forward without causing the damage to the national security," argued Assistant US Attorney, Joseph Sher.

CNN reports that the names on the court documents are known to be aliases, but the prosecutor's office in Munich said that they are all believed to be CIA members based in Langley, Virginia.

In a separate case, AP also reports that an Italian magistrate will decide this week whether or not to indict 26 Americans for their role in the abduction of cleric and terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003. Five Italians, including former Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari may also be indicted for their roles in the incident.

Finally, the Guardian reports that EU lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the possibility of a US military attack aimed at Iran's nuclear program.

As transatlantic friction over how to deal with the Iranian impasse intensifies, there are fears in European capitals that the nuclear crisis could come to a head this year because of US frustration with Russian stalling tactics at the UN security council. "The clock  is ticking," said one European official. "Military action has come back on to the table more seriously than before. The language in the US has changed."

The Guardian reports that while the US and Europe have tried to maintain a common front against Iran's nuclear program, fissures have opened on three key fronts: the military option; how and how quickly to hit Iran with economic sanctions already decreed by the UN Security Council; and how to deal with Russian opposition to action against Iran through the security council.

"There's anxiety everywhere you turn," said a diplomat familiar with the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "The Europeans are very concerned...."

"No path is envisaged by the EU other than the UN path," the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, told the Guardian yesterday. "The priority for all of us is that Iran complies with UN security council resolutions."

While several European countries think it is a good time to turn up the pressure on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because of persistent rumors and news stories that he is in trouble with the country's ruling mullahs for his position on the nuclear issue, they still remained worried that they will "stumble into a war" if they are not careful.

Reuters reports that the US is pushing its European allies to go beyond the sanctions agreed on by the Security Council, especially in the area of financial investment, but both the EU and Russia are strongly resisting this request. "A number of countries, especially Russia, feel the United States is bullying them to end even legitimate business with Iran due to the nuclear dispute," a senior Western official told reporters.

Reuters also reported earlier this month that US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that the EU should " curtail billions of euros of export credits available for trade with Iran." He also criticized recent arms deals that Russia and China have concluded with Iran.

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