WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama won agreement from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday to accept three prisoners held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Obama made the announcement after talks with Berlusconi as the U.S. leader pressed efforts to move inmates from Guantanamo, which houses foreign terrorism detainees and has drawn international criticism, to other countries as part of his plan to close the prison by January.
“I ... thanked the prime minister for his support of our policy of closing Guantanamo,” Obama said after White House talks with Berlusconi. “This is not just talk. Italy has agreed to accept three specific detainees.”
The European Union said earlier on Monday its member states were ready to help resettle detainees freed from the detention center at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba.
Three Guantanamo detainees were transferred to Saudi Arabia “under appropriate security measures” last week, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday.
The Saudi transfers followed the transfer of six other detainees last week -- four Chinese members of the Uighur ethnic group were released in Bermuda, and one detainee from Iraq and another from Chad were sent to their home countries.
Within days of taking office on January 20, Obama set a one-year deadline for closing the prison, which now holds more than 220 detainees, as part of his effort to repair the United States’ tarnished image abroad.
The Guantanamo prison, opened under former President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001, attacks, drew international criticism for holding prisoners indefinitely, many without charges. Human rights groups accused the Bush administration of condoning the torture of inmates held there.
Obama is seeking help from U.S. allies in resettling Guantanamo inmates as he faces strong opposition in Congress to sending them to prisons in the United States. He has insisted, however, that some prisoners will be jailed on U.S. soil.
Editing by Patricia Zengerle