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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November 2003, 16:09 GMT
Blair: Cuba detainee deal soon
Jack Straw and Colin Powell
The foreign secretaries presented a united front on the News at Ten
Tony Blair has said the issue of UK citizens interned at Guantanamo bay will be resolved soon.

The prime minister's comment came after the US hinted it may release the Britons being held by the US at Camp Delta in Cuba for trial in the UK.

The offer was indicated by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, visiting the UK along with US President George W Bush.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Mr Bush, Mr Blair said talks were still ongoing about the issue.

Mr Bush defended the treatment of the detainees saying they were being treated "humanely".

Mr Blair said: "We are in discussions about this. It will be resolved in one of two ways.

It is not going to be resolved today, but it will be resolved at some point soon
Tony Blair
"Either they will be tried by the military commission out there, or alternatively, they will be brought back here.

"It will be resolved at some point or other. It is not going to be resolved today, but it will be resolved at some point soon."

Mr Bush stressed that the US was still sorting through the detainees on a "case by case basis".

"There is a court procedure in place that will allow them to be tried in a fair fashion," he said.

Working together?

"As to the issue of the British citizens, we are working with the British Government."

Mr Bush faced a human rights demonstration by 60 members of Amnesty International as he arrived at Downing Street.

The protesters were there to highlight their opposition to the fact the detainees at Guantanamo have been held without charge or legal representation.

Stephen Bowen, Amnesty's campaigns director, said: "Our central message is that the Guantanamo Bay detainees should be charged or released, and any trials should be civilian, not military."

The father of British detainee Moazzam Begg, Azmat, said: "I would say to Mr Bush, please think about what you are doing to the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay or anywhere else in the world."

Mr Begg added his son, who is from Birmingham, should be tried in England.

'Difficult'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who met Mr Bush for 30 minutes on Wednesday, said Mr Bush had told him he hoped the Guantanamo controversy could be resolved "in the next week or two".

We expect to be resolving this in the near future
Colin Powell

That was a message repeated by Tory leader Michael Howard who stressed, after his meeting with Mr Bush, that no decision has been made as yet.

"Returning the British prisoners is an option they are considering and it may be what they end up doing," he told BBC Breakfast.

"But I don't think they have decided it yet and because I don't like raising expectations which might be disappointed, I'm cautious about all that."

A US official said the issue was still under discussion, and several options were being considered.

"There have been no decisions made yet," the official said.

The nine Britons are among hundreds of non-US prisoners who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay, suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda network.

Political pressure call

The lawyer for another detainee, Feroz Abbasi, from Croydon, south London, said his family would be "hugely pleased" that the Americans could be prepared to return him to the UK.

Louise Christian said: "All that remains now is for our prime minister and our foreign secretary to insist that that is what happens."

She said the detainees had been held and interrogated without access to a lawyer for two years, and that their proposed military commission trials "breached every requirement for a fair trial in every respect".

The Bush administration has previously said the detainees at the camp in Cuba are "enemy combatants" ineligible for due legal process.

Mr Powell and Mr Straw put on a united front when interviewed together for the first time for the BBC's News at Ten.

Mr Straw told the BBC the two politicians talked almost every day but "neither side grandstands" about it.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The BBC's James Robbins
"A strong signal from Colin Powell that his president will make a big concession to Tony Blair"



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