Miliband urged to clarify position on Guantanamo

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Indy Politics

Foreign Secretary David Miliband was today urged to clarify whether Britain could take in foreign terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay to allow the prison camp to be shut down.

The Foreign Office denied claims that it was pushing to receive Guantanamo inmates with no links to Britain, and said no approach had been made by the United States either.

But officials said the Government recognised the US would need "assistance from allies and partners" in order to close the controversial camp - as President-elect Barack Obama has promised to do.

The prospect of the UK accepting terror suspects who are neither British nor former residents was dismissed as hypothetical.

Questions emerged after it was reported that Britain was, in fact, ready to receive such people.

The Tories today called for Foreign Secretary Mr Miliband to clarify the situation.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "The Foreign Secretary must explain urgently whether this is true, how many Guantanamo inmates would be admitted to Britain, by what criteria they would be selected, and what assurances would be given about their behaviour in the future."

Mr Obama has promised to close the prison camp, on Cuba, but is facing difficulties in resettling about 60 inmates who have been cleared for release but cannot be returned to their home countries.

Portugal has offered to take some of the detainees and is calling on other EU states to do the same. The Times claimed today that the Foreign Office was keen to help Mr Obama on the issue.

But the Foreign Office said it was not pushing for any inmates to be allowed into Britain other than a number of UK nationals and former residents.

"We have made it clear that we think Guantanamo Bay should be closed," a spokeswoman said.

"We recognise the legal, technical and other difficulties and that the US will require assistance from allies and partners to make this happen.

"We have long pressed the US for release of British nationals and residents. To date, we have got all British nationals back, as well as four former residents.

"We continue to press for release of the two remaining former British residents, Binyam Mohamed and Shaker Aamer. Our priority has been to get Binyam Mohamed back to the UK and our offer for receiving Shaker Aamer remains open.

"The Foreign Office is not pushing for a deal to allow other Guantanamo terror suspects into the UK."

She added that no approach had been made by the US.

While UK nationals and residents have been received back from Guantanamo without significant controversy, there would be greater concern about Britain housing former terror suspects with no personal links to the country.

Ministers and officials would have to resolve thorny issues relating to their immigration status and entitlement to assistance and benefits.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said: "It's right that Britain plays its part in helping President-elect Obama close Guantanamo Bay if we are to be true to our promises to support justice.

"However, there are many questions that will need to be answered and reassurances given, just as America demanded of us before they were prepared to release UK citizens and residents."

Following an open letter from Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado earlier this month urging fellow EU states to take in Guantanamo detainees, the issue is expected to be raised at a meeting of the EU's general affairs and external relations council later this month.

The US administration is seeking help in resettling about 60 prisoners who have been cleared for release out of the 248 still at Guantanamo more than seven years after it was opened in 2001.

It is thought that the detainees considered most dangerous - about 30 to 80 individuals, including the self-confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed - will be taken to the US for trial following Mr Obama's January 20 inauguration.