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White House finalising plan to close Guantanamo prison

File photo of detainees sitting in a holding area at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay

The White House is in the “final stages” of drafting a plan to close the contentious Guantanamo Bay prison and will submit it for review by lawmakers, spokesman Josh Earnest has said.

President Barack Obama made the closure of the controversial prison in Cuba a priority when he took office in 2009, but the plan has faced numerous setbacks, including Congress blocking the transfer of detainees to US prisons.

“The administration is in fact in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly (close) the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to present that to Congress,” Earnest said yesterday.

“That has been something that our national security officials have been working on for quite some time, primarily because it is a priority of the president.”

The operation in Cuba is not an effective use of government resources, Earnest told reporters.

“This is complicated work, but we have made a lot of important progress,” he added.

The broader US naval base at Guantanamo in southeastern Cuba is also opposed by the Cuban government, with which the United States just restored diplomatic relations. Cuba says the United States is illegally occupying its land.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called for the return of the territory to Cuba and for a lifting of the US embargo against the communist country while in Washington Monday.

Standing next to US Secretary of State John Kerry, Rodriguez said Havana aimed to move forward.

But he stressed “totally lifting the blockade, the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo as well as the full respect for Cuban sovereignty … Are crucial to be able to move towards the normalisation.”

Kerry said that the US had no plans to alter its Guantanamo lease treaty. Cuba however says there is no lease, and that there has been none in a half century.

Washington has slowly been sending Guantanamo prisoners back to their home countries or to third countries, something that needs to continue if the facility is to shut, Earnest said.

The United States said in June a group of six Yemeni detainees were transferred to Oman.

Other detainees need to be prosecuted or reviewed for release, Earnest said.

A new special envoy tasked with closing the prison was also recently appointed by Kerry.