Request for Posada Denied

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005

MIAMI, May 27 -- The diplomatic tangle surrounding Luis Posada Carriles grew more complex Friday as the Bush administration rejected Venezuela's request to arrest him as a suspected terrorist, while a high-ranking State Department official questioned whether Venezuela sincerely wants custody of the accused Cuban militant.

Posada, who is suspected by Cuba and Venezuela of masterminding the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people in 1976, was arrested May 17 in Miami on immigration charges. The arrest created a conundrum for the U.S. government, which has taken a rigidly anti-terrorist stance, but has strained relations with Cuba and Venezuela.

Venezuela has not formally asked the United States to extradite Posada. Instead, it made what is called a "provisional arrest" request, a legal maneuver usually employed to prevent suspects from fleeing and designed to give governments time to prepare formal extradition requests.

Venezuela has made such requests before, a State Department official said. But the Posada arrest request was so inadequate, the official said, that some U.S. diplomats believe Venezuela purposely drafted it so the United States would reject it.

"It leads one to ask the question, 'Do they really want to get this done or is this in some way a public relations issue?' " said the State Department official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez seemed to indicate Friday that such suspicions are unfounded. Venezuela "reiterates that it will present the needed documents to request Mr. Posada's extradition," said a statement by the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington.

The Bush administration said in a diplomatic note delivered to the embassy Friday that it would not rule out granting a formal extradition request. In the meantime, a variety of alternatives are being explored, the State Department official said.

The Venezuelan request denied Friday was so deeply flawed that it could not be approved, the official said. It had no statement of the evidence against Posada, there were unexplained time gaps in the narrative of the crimes he is suspected of committing and there was no mention that he had been acquitted in Venezuela on the airliner bombing charges. The request also included an allegation that Posada, who once served as a security official for the Venezuelan government, is guilty of treason, even though U.S. law prohibits extraditing suspects to face treason allegations, the official said.

The Bush administration may be in a classic no-win situation because it may have to choose between extraditing Posada to a nation led by one of its most strident critics -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez -- or being labeled "hypocrites" for talking tough about terrorism but refusing to extradite a suspected terrorist, said Jennifer L. McCoy, an expert in U.S.-Venezuela relations at Georgia State University.

"It's hard to recall anything this ticklish," McCoy said. "It certainly is an awkward situation for the U.S."

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