The News Minute | January 30, 2015 | 8:15 am IST
US President Barack Obama does not plan to return the territory on which the Guantanamo Bay naval base is located to Cuba, although he aims at closing down the prison set up there, the White House said Thursday.
During a speech on Wednesday at the Community of Latin American and Carribean States (CELAC) summit in Costa Rica, Cuban President Raul Castro mentioned the return of Guantanamo Bay as one of the matters pending in the process launched to normalise relations with Washington.
However, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Thursday that the US government was planning to retain the territory it holds at Guantanamo.
When asked if the US would return that territory to Cuba if the prison there was closed, Earnest said "no" and added that there were no bilateral discussions underway on that issue.
The prison needed to be shut down, but the naval base there was not something that should be closed, Earnest said.
Cuba's claim to the Guantanamo territory would not be included in the final declaration of the third CELAC summit held in Costa Rica, authorities confirmed to EFE Thursday.
CELAC, however, will ask the US to end its economic blockade of Cuba and remove the island from the list of countries sponsoring international terrorism. This call would be along the lines of the demands expressed by Raul Castro.
Meanwhile, Earnest on Thursday ruled out that Obama would backpedal on his policy of re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba because of Castro's demands.
The spokesman admitted that "there are pretty clear differences" between the US and Cuba on many subjects, and he listed among them Washington's concern over the regime's treatment of dissidents.
However, he went on to say that Washington's "isolation" of Cuba for more than half a century had not worked and that after the agreement to normalise bilateral relations, there has been some progress as a result of the regime's release of about 50 political prisoners.
Earnest called the move a small step, and merely the first one in a long journey, but said it reflected progress.
Guantanamo Bay, which was establised in January, 2002, at one time held nearly 800 terrorism suspects in the wake of the Sep 11, 2001 terroist attacks on the US.
At the time of its establishment, the then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the prison camp was established to detain extraordinarily dangerous persons, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute them for war crimes.
Some Guantanamo inmates have been released by the US in the last few months.
President Obama had promised to close the Guantanamo Bay prison since he assumed office, but many Republicans have opposed those plans.