LISBON, Portugal – Portugal has agreed to take two Syrian detainees from Guantanamo on humanitarian grounds, the government said Friday — becoming the third EU nation to accept inmates from the U.S. military prison.
The pair will be granted special visas under a law covering humanitarian concerns or national interest, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its Web site, without elaborating. It did not identify the detainees or say when they might arrive.
President Barack Obama pledged to close the detention center by January, and has asked European nations to accept some of the camp's more than 200 detainees — some of whom cannot return safely to their homelands.
But within the European Union, which long argued for the prison's closure, only Portugal, France and Ireland have committed to taking specific prisoners. Outside the bloc, a few former detainees have settled in Albania and Bermuda.
"We are encouraged that so may of our close friends and allies are also considering assisting us in our efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities," U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Friday, adding that details of two detainees' planned transfer to Portugal were still being worked out.
Britain has said it wants to limit its intake of ex-Guantanamo prisoners to people with citizenship or residency ties. Others, such as Germany and Sweden, say they have taken many refugees from earlier conflicts and expect the U.S. to explain why it shouldn't be the first option for all of Guantanamo's homeless.
The Portuguese Foreign Ministry statement said the decision "safeguards aspects related to security (and) the prospects for the successful integration of the chosen former inmates." It did not elaborate.
The closure of Guantanamo prison, it said, is "a milestone for the renewal of transatlantic relations and a victory for those who defend and encourage respect for human rights within the context of the fight against terrorism."
Portugal's Foreign Minister Luis Amado in December urged EU nations to welcome ex-Guantanamo inmates, saying they should help Obama resolve the problem of how to close the prison, situated on the southeastern tip of Cuba.
In June, the EU agreed to "turn the page" on Guantanamo, but left individual EU members to decide whether to take in detainees.
France agreed in May to take in a 43-year-old man from its former colonial possession Algeria. Ireland said last week it would resettle two Guantanamo prisoners.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently told Obama his country would take three detainees, but details of any firm deal remain confidential. Spain is considering a U.S. request that it accept four.