Home News EU delegation begins talks on Guantanamo inmates

EU delegation begins talks on Guantanamo inmates

Published on 17/03/2009

WASHINGTON – EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot and Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer on Monday launched talks with the Obama administration on accepting Guantanamo detainees, officials said.

Barrot and Langer, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, were to meet with US Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads a task force to close the controversial military prison by January 2010, according to the delegation of the European Commission in Washington.

They were also to meet with Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

On Tuesday, the EU officials were to speak with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other advisors of President Barack Obama at the White House.

The discussions were to focus on how the 27 EU countries could welcome some 60 prisoners who have been cleared for release, out of the more than 240 who remain at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A minority of EU countries – France, Italy, Portugal and Spain – have said they might be ready to host Guantanamo prisoners under strict conditions.

Few if any of the detainees cleared for release are EU citizens, and Brussels wants to know exactly why they cannot be hosted by the United States.

"There is a very deep wariness on the part of EU interior ministers, who are concerned about the difficulties of hosting one or another inmate. To do that, we need to know a lot about the candidates" for Europe, Barrot told AFP in an interview last week.

"We have questions and we are going to test the level of cooperation from the US authorities. We will verify all the information obtained, particularly about the exact nature of the US request" for the EU to host detainees, he added.

EU nations regularly demanded the closure of the jail, where "war on terror" prisoners have been held often without charge or trial, and have welcomed Obama’s decision to finally shut it down.

But national laws differ widely among the EU countries and they are struggling to define a common position on how best to help. In the past, US authorities have routinely proved reluctant to hand over intelligence data.

Barrot and Langer were also to raise the issue of visa policy, as citizens from five European countries – Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Cyprus – are still required to obtain a visa before travelling to the United States.

Also at issue was a potential agreement with Washington on protecting personal data, which Barrot considered a "condition to any cooperation in the fight against terror and organised crime."

AFP / Expatica