ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: The United States has struck a notional deal with the tiny island nation of Palau, located near the Philippines, to take in up to 17 detainees from Guantanamo who have been cleared for release, according to US officials. The details of their transfer, however, have yet to be worked out -- including how much money Palau will receive from the United States for taking them in.
Specifically, one senior US official told ABC News, the United States and Palau are nailing down where and when they would be transferred, how they would be looked after, and how many of the 17 Uyghurs currently in Guantanamo Palau would accept. That process, the official said, could take up to a few more weeks.
The official said the United States is prepared to pay Palau for each detainee they agree to house, but described the amount as "not very substantial." It remains unclear whether Palau would have to use those funds to house and care for the former detainees.
Palau's President Johnson Toribiong was quoted today as saying his country "agreed to accommodate the United States of America's request to temporarily resettle in Palau up to 17 ethnic Uighur detainees." He said their resettlement in Palau would be "subject to periodic review."
Toribiong's announcement follows a visit to Palau last week by Ambassador Daniel Fried, a top State Department official tasked with finding countries to take in the remaining Guantanamo detainees.
Just a few days ago, the Obama administration asserted before the Supreme Court that the Uyghurs have no right to come to America despite a district judge's orders last Fall that they immediately be brought to the U.S. and released.
The United States does not want to send the Uyghurs, a Muslim Chinese ethnic group, back to China where Washington fears they would likely be persecuted for their opposition to the Beijing government.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly confirmed that the US is in talks with Palau, and other countries, about taking in detainees from Guantanamo, but said no deal had yet been finalized.
"In preparation for closing Guantanamo, as I've said several times, we're in ongoing discussions with a number of governments, including with the government of Palau, on resettlement options for some of the Guantanamo detainees, who we believe present compelling basis for resettlement or a compelling case for resettlement, on a humanitarian basis," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters, on camera.
But, he added, "we're still involved in ongoing discussions" over "details."
US officials also pointed to numerous caveats in Toribiong's statement, in particular that Palau could take in "up to" 17 Uyghurs, that they have agreed to take them in "temporarily," and that it would be subject to a "periodic review."
Kelly disputed press reports that connected a US plan to provide Palau with $200 million in aid to their willingness to take in the Uyghurs.
"Palau and the United States are embarking on a 15-year mandated review of their Compact of Free Association, which dates back to 1994. Part of those discussions include a review of direct and indirect assistance the United States has provided to Palau and might provide in the future. This long-standing agreement under the Compact of Free Association is not linked to any other discussions we may be having with the government of Palau," Kelly said.
The US has provided Palau with budgetary assistance ever since they ratified a Compact of Free Association with the US in 1993. The assistance is designed to help their economy which posted a GDP of only $164 million in 2008, or just $8,100 per capita. In a deal that expires this year Palau received a total of $157 million over the past 15 years. The new agreement raises that to $200 million for a nation of only 21,000 people over the next 15 years.