European nations divided over taking Guantanamo detainees
BERLIN - For years, Europe has been calling on the United States government to close the Guantanamo detention center that the Bush administration established after Sept. 11, 2001. But now that President Barack Obama actually intends to shut it down, European governments are divided over whether they should accept any of the detainees to help the United States empty the prison.
Foreign ministers of the 27-member European Union are scheduled to give their response Monday to Obama's decision to halt pending military trials for 120 days and to shut Guantanamo within a year. From all signs, they are not ready to present an EU-wide stance.
Instead, the EU is expected to play for time, arguing that, since it will take at least a year to close the camp, European countries have several months to produce a detailed response.
"The reality is that we are divided," said one of those close to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "There are a bunch of countries that want to offer something to the US, and there are countries that are careful and are not ready to jump."
The divisions show how difficult it will be for the Europeans to reach a united stance, said Karsten Voigt, the coordinator for German-American cooperation in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
"We have been criticizing the US all along and demanding that Guantanamo be closed," Voigt said. "Now that the new administration wants to do it, we either simply say it is a US problem and Washington must deal with it, or we help to solve the issue."
The 27 EU ambassadors agreed yesterday that there would be no immediate pledge from the bloc to accept all the detainees.
But that is not stopping some countries from moving on their own. Portugal was the first to offer to take inmates who have been cleared for release but who cannot be sent to their home countries for security reasons.
The Portuguese foreign minister, Luis Amado, sent a letter last month to his EU counterparts asking them to do the same. He is still waiting for a reply, according to an EU diplomat.
By contrast, Austria has said it does not want to take any detainees.