U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates - on a visit to Saudi Arabia - says he spoke to local officials about using a successful program for absorbing their detainees from Guantanamo for the large number of Yemenis now being held at the controversial facility.
Secretary Gates says he raised the possibility with Saudi Assistant Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayaf, telling him the United States is impressed with the Saudi repatriation program.
"I think they've probably done as good, if not better job, of that than almost anybody and explored the possibility of some of the Yemeni detainees coming through that system," he said. "I think the notion would be, if it worked at all, it would be those with strong Saudi family connections or strong connections to Saudi Arabia. Nothing was decided. Nothing was specifically asked. It was more a general conversation about the capability and about the possibility."
Secretary Gates said he did not make any specific request of the Saudi minister and the minister did not make any specific offer.
Gates says Yemen's president appears to be reluctant to support the idea, because it would imply his government is not capable of handling the resettlement. Yemeni detainees are the largest group among approximately 250 men held at Guantanamo. Secretary Gates is a co-chair of the task force President Obama formed to decide how to close the facility and what to do with the detainees.
Gates says he did not discuss with the Saudis whether some of the Yemeni detainees might be permanently resettled in Saudi Arabia. He says, for now, it is a matter of getting them into the program, not where they might go when the graduate.