Spain still deciding on Guantanamo detainees

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The Spanish prime minister says his government is still assessing the numbers of inmates to take from the Guantanamo Bay prison after his first visit to the White House.

Washington – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Tuesday said his government was still assessing how many inmates to take from the Guantanamo Bay prison after talks with US President Barack Obama.

Zapatero, making the first visit to the White House by a Spanish leader since 2004 following a souring of relations with Washington over Iraq, said he fully backed Obama's decision to shutter the controversial camp in Cuba.

Before Zapatero arrived, Spanish officials had said that the prime minister could offer to take up to three prisoners from the camp, which Obama is trying to close, though likely after a self-imposed deadline of next January.

"We were talking about closing down Guantanamo," Zapatero said in the Oval Office, after a working lunch with Obama.

"President Obama welcomed the initiative of Spain, it is something that we are assessing right now, we are still assessing the exact numbers," Zapatero said.

"Our support is firm, we want to back President Obama's promise to close Guantanamo."

The United States has been trying to persuade allies to accept some of the inmates from Guantanamo that are deemed eligible for release -- around 80 detainees among the 220 or so terror suspects still at the camp.

So far, only around 30 prisoners are believed to have been transferred to third countries since Obama took office in January.

The administration acknowledged recently that it will likely miss the January 2010 deadline to close the camp.

Obama said the two leaders discussed Iran, the economy, nuclear proliferation, counterterrorism and improving relations with Russia, especially given that Spain will take over the European Union presidency early next year.

"I am absolutely confident that your government and ours will continue to strengthen our relationship in the years to come," Obama said.

"And with Spain's leadership in Europe and around the world ... we can make enormous progress together that serves both the Spanish people well, as well as the American people."

Relations turned sour between the two countries in 2004 when Zapatero angered Obama's predecessor, George W Bush, by carrying out an election promise to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.

AFP / Expatica

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