Thursday, April 2, 2009

DOHA, QATAR (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country would have “no problem” taking any of the remaining 240 Guantanamo detainees after they are released from the U.S. military prison.

But it is unlikely that the United States, which has strained relations with Chavez, would send any of the remaining Guantanamo detainees to Venezuela.

Chavez has frequently criticized the detention center in Cuba, but the socialist leader has also praised President Barack Obama’s recent pledge to close the facility within a year.

In an interview with Arabic-language Al-Jazeera news network during this week’s trip to the Persian Gulf country Qatar, Chavez urged Obama to free the remaining detainees and return the facility to Cuba.

When asked, Chavez said his government would have no objections to taking any of the remaining detainees.

“We would have no problem in receiving a human being,” he told Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, during the interview on Wednesday. The remarks were later released by Venezuela’s Information Ministry.

As part of Obama’s closure order, U.S. officials must decide which of the remaining detainees should be shipped away to foreign countries and which to bring to trial in U.S. courts, or tried and held by the U.S. in some other fashion.

Prisoners transferred to third countries, mainly in Europe, would be those determined to pose no threat but who cannot be sent back to their homelands because of the risk of persecution. Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees.

Venezuela’s relations with the U.S. deteriorated in recent years as leftist Chavez crusaded against what he calls the U.S. “empire.” In September, Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and recalled his envoy to Washington.

Chavez has at times expressed a desire for improved relations under Obama, but he has also criticized the new American president including calling him “ignorant” last month.

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