Friday, March 06, 2009

Clinton 'very encouraged' by EU stance on Guantanamo inmates

Clinton 'very encouraged' by EU stance on Guantanamo inmates

Wed Mar 4, 6:08 pm ET

Clinton 'very encouraged' by EU stance on Guantanamo inmates AFP – Belgium Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht (L) welcomes US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before a 'transatlantic' …

BRUSSELS (AFP) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that she was very encouraged by the position of European nations on hosting inmates from Guantanamo prison, which Washington has moved to close.

"I am very encouraged by what I have heard," she told reporters travelling with her to Brussels on a two-day visit for talks with EU and NATO officials.

"It is something that we may well come back to them about, once we finish our own internal work on this issue," she said.

EU nations have welcomed President Barack Obama's decision to close the detention centre at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and are keen to help Washington do so.

However, due to widely differing laws among the 27 EU countries, they are struggling to define a common position on how best to help, as they await an official request to accept former inmates.

A high-level EU delegation will travel to Washington on March 16-17 to find out exactly how US authorities decided that around 60 of the more than 240 prisoners could be released and why they cannot be hosted by the United States.

"We have been quite encouraged at the positive, receptive responses we have been getting, but we are not ready to go yet and actually make specific requests," Clinton said.

The former prisoners might have to be transferred elsewhere because they could face the death penalty at home, while others could be tried in US courts. Some may prove impossible to try, transfer or release.

A minority of EU countries -- France, Italy, Portugal and Spain -- have said they might be ready to accept former prisoners under strict conditions.

The bloc is also examining other options, like providing funds to other nations which might be prepared to host them.

Almost none of the remaining detainees are European citizens, and member countries could demand to conduct an independent assessment of the security risk they might pose, using US intelligence.

Should they be accepted, the former prisoners could be granted restricted residency status, possibly limiting their movement within the Schengen no borders area or imposing surveillance measures.

Those could also be granted refugee or protection status for one to three years, and steps could be taken to help them integrate.

The EU also wants reassurance that other inmates would not be transferred to another, possibly similar and equally contentious facility, like the Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan.

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