‘Yemenis at Gitmo may be sent to Saudi Arabia’


The rehabilitation program was one of several topics discussed by Gates and senior Saudi officials, who are equally keen to ensure that those freed from Guantanamo Bay do not end up rejoining militant groups.

Gates, who met Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy interior minister, and other high-ranking Saudi officials before leaving for Kabul yesterday, was on a Middle East trip trying to address the concerns of the US’ allies over Iran. Speaking to reporters at Eskan Village Military Base near Riyadh city, where 800 US military personnel are training Saudi security forces, Gates said that “the relationship between the US and the Kingdom has been one of the mainstays of stability in the Middle East for the last 60 years.”

The US defense secretary said he also sought to enlist Saudi Arabia’s support to help Pakistan stave off threats from militants. Gates said he discussed US policies and plans with special reference to bilateral ties, the Middle East peace process, Iran and Guantanamo prisoners.

He said Saudi officials had made no new requests to buy US weapons, but he was looking at removing “bureaucratic obstacles” to speed up the delivery of arms to US allies in the region. “Saudi Arabia continues to be an important partner for the US in counterterrorism and a range of other issues,” Gates said.

The US defense secretary said he was impressed by Saudi Arabia’s program to rehabilitate militants whereas Yemen may have less capacity to deal with repatriated inmates. He, however, said that “nothing had been decided and nothing specifically was asked” during his talks with Saudi officials.

Yemeni prisoners make up the largest nationality among the 241 detainees still at Guantanamo. Gates said Yemenis likely to be sent to the Saudi rehabilitation facilities “would be those with strong Saudi family connections or strong connections to Saudi Arabia.” Few dispute that Saudi Arabia has one of the most successful militants’ rehabilitation programs in the world.

Referring to problems caused by Iran, he said, “It is important for the US to try to settle its differences with Iran.” But, he also said that senior US officials are aware that past efforts have failed.

He, however, played down any expectations of reconciliation between the US and Iran.

Gates said he had also communicated to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he does not know “what might be possible” in terms of Washington’s relationship with Tehran. “There was some concern in the region that there would be some grand bargain that would be sprung on them,” he said.

Such concerns were “completely unrealistic,” Gates added, pledging that Washington would consult closely with its allies and that no deal would be hatched in secret. “We will keep our friends informed about what is going so that nobody gets surprised,” he said.

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