BRUSSELS The European Union will need time to solve the difficult issue of whether to help President Barack Obama shut the Guantanamo jail by taking in inmates, the bloc's anti-terrorism chief said on Thursday.
"President Obama said he will need a year to close Guantanamo, it shows how difficult it is," EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told reporters.
"So we should not ask the EU to answer in 15 days, that would not be serious ... the ministers will discuss it again," he said after the bloc's foreign minister were split on this issue when they first discussed it at a meeting on Monday.
A day after being sworn in last week, Obama ordered the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where prisoners have been detained for years without charge, some subjected to interrogation that human rights groups say amounted to torture.
Analysts say helping shut Guantanamo would be a good way for the EU to mend transatlantic ties, damaged over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"We are not at a point where we can say this country takes in three (inmates) and that one five, we are not there yet ... it is a very complex issue, it is not yes or no, black or white," de Kerchove said, pointing to complex legal and security implications.
He recalled that under the Bush administration, Washington tried in vain, for years, to persuade its allies in the 27-nation EU to take in detainees who cannot go back to their home country and whom the United States does not want either.
EU foreign ministers said on Monday they expected the new U.S. administration to contact them quickly with the same demand.
De Kerchove said things were different now because Obama's decision to shut the prison, widely viewed as a stain on the U.S.'s human rights record, was part of an overall shift in U.S. anti-terrorism policy, including giving up on water-boarding practices.
There are about 55-60 "cleared for release" detainees, including Chinese Muslim Uighurs, together with Libyans, Uzbeks and Algerians, who it is feared could face persecution if they were sent back home.
De Kerchove said it would be up to each EU state to decide if it wanted to take in inmates but that the bloc would discuss whether it could at least coordinate these efforts and if it could give financial help to non-EU countries to help them take in some inmates too.
Obama's decision to shut Guantanamo has been widely welcomed across the world. Even the Taliban, toppled in the U.S-led invasion of Afghanistan, said on Tuesday that this plan was "a positive step."
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Myra MacDonald)