Zapatero, Obama discuss closing Guantanamo


Washington : Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero assured US President Barack Obama that Spain is willing to take some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in a sign of friendlier ties between the two countries.

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Meeting with Obama at the White House, Zapatero said there has not been an agreement on a final number of detainees who can be transferred to Spain, adding that is part of ongoing discussions.

“The Spanish people are most satisfied about the very positive relations and the good atmosphere between our two countries,” Zapatero said through a translator.

Zapatero’s visit to the White House was his first since taking office in 2004. Obama predecessor George W Bush refused to host Zapatero because of the prime minister’s decision to abruptly withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq after winning the election.

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

The US has reportedly asked Spain to take as many as four Guantanamo prisoners as the Obama administration seeks to close the controversial facility in Cuba by Jan 22. Spain has insisted it will take no more than three.

Spain recently increased its troop presence in Afghanistan assigned to train Afghan security forces and peacekeeping. Zapatero reiterated his country’s commitment to Afghan stability and economic growth.

“Our engagement in Afghanistan is firm,” Zapatero said.

The two leaders also discussed the Middle East peace process ahead of Zapatero’s trip to the region, Iran’s nuclear programme, and building closer economic ties between the US and Spain.