Auteur: | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Despite demands by the Netherlands and Belgium, the conclusions of a two-day EU summit in Brussels do not contain any reference to the US Guantanamo prison camp, but a press statement prepared by Vienna explicitly backs closure of the camp.
Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot, supported by his Belgian counterpart Karel de Gucht, on Thursday (23 March) proposed adding wording about "concern" over alleged human rights abuses in Guantanamo into the final conclusion, but this was rejected by the Austrian presidency.
Washington has faced huge criticism in the EU for the way it has treated terrorist suspects kept at the base on Cuban territory.
Diplomats told EUobserver that the Austrian presidency wanted to keep out all external relations topics from the conclusions, which this time focused on energy and the economy, with the exception of Belarus where current events made a swift reaction necessary.
"It would have looked strange to have Guantanamo mentioned in the conclusions next to Belarus," said a diplomat, hinting that this was likely to offend Washington.
The Netherlands in the end also agreed and was happy with an alternative presidency press statement that was circulated for approval among EU leaders at the end of their talks on Friday.
The rough statement will not be published in written form, as it was solely prepared for the event that journalists would raise the issue in the presidency press briefing after the summit - which did not happen.
The words on behalf of the EU - never spoken out loud by Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel - state that "Guantanamo remains a source of serious concern."
"Nobody should be in a legal vacuum," Mr Schussel was ready to say. "Human rights and humanitarian standards have to be maintained while combating terrorism."
The statement explicitly backs calls for the Guantanamo camp to be shut down.
"Calls for a closure of Guantanamo Bay have been raised by the heads of government of several allies of the US. Such calls were right and timely."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in January publicly called on Washington to close Guantanamo, while other EU politicians have echoed her words.
The EU's message to Washington also states that "the dialogue of legal advisers of the EU and US foreign ministries on discussing improved safeguards for human rights in the fight against terrorism will be continued."