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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-18

US President Barack Obama has admitted for the first time that the January 2010 deadline he set for closing the “war on terror” prison at Guantanamo Bay will be missed.

President Barack Obama admitted for the first time on Wednesday that the United States would miss the self-imposed January 2010 deadline for closing the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama had vowed during his first week in office in January that he would close Guantanamo within a year, saying the prison did not adhere to US human and civil rights standards and slamming it as a toxic symbol that could be exploited by terrorists looking to recruit new members.

"I knew this was going to be hard," Obama said in Beijing during his week-long trip to Asia, in an interview to be aired on Fox News Channel later on Wednesday.

Obama expressed confidence that the military prison could be closed next year, though he did not specify a date. "We are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantanamo will be closed next year," he said.

Terror suspects back on US soil?

The White House has been moving to repatriate some of Guantanamo’s 200 remaining inmates who have been cleared for release while seeking countries willing to provide asylum to others. Efforts to transfer some of the suspects to trial or detention in the US have met resistance from both sides of the political aisle in Congress.

Recently, Democrats in Illinois discussed a plan to send terrorism suspects to a maximum-security federal prison near Chicago.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that five key suspects accused of plotting the attacks, including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, would be moved from Guantanamo Bay to New York for prosecution.

The terror suspects face trial at a civil courthouse just a few steps from Ground Zero, where thousands lost their lives after hijacked airliners were flown into the World Trade Center towers in 2001.

Holder's announcement was hailed by some on the left as a groundbreaking step toward closing Guantanamo, but prompted furious reactions from a number of victims' families and outrage among Republican lawmakers.

Obama acknowledged the political thorniness of closing the prison, noting: “People I think understandably are fearful after a lot of years where they were told that Guantanamo was critical to keeping terrorists out. So, I understood that that had to be processed, but it's also just technically hard -- I just think as usual in Washington things move slower than I anticipated.”

Constructive delay

Obama’s admission that one of his first announced initiatives as president will not be accomplished by the target date comes as his agenda fills up with policy challenges ranging from healthcare reform to a much-awaited decision on additional troops in Afghanistan.

Still, the official news of the delay came as no surprise to American political analysts, many of whom expected backlash to be minimal.

Ari Melber, a commentator and correspondent who covers Obama and human rights issues for prominent political magazine The Nation, notes: “Even broken deadlines can be constructive. This deadline accelerated internal review and external pressure on the process….Now human rights advocates and many Obama supporters are more concerned about closing Gitmo the right way than closing it on the right day.”

Date created : 2009-11-18