(CNN) — The Obama administration is in the “final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly” close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
“That has been something that our national security officials have been working on for quite some time,” Earnest said.
Earnest was responding to a question about a story in The New York Times that says the effort to close the prison, one of the first promises the president made back in 2009 upon taking office, was faltering and “collapsing again.”
Any plan would have to be approved by Congress, which has placed significant obstacles in the way of transferring detainees out of the prison.
Currently a ban exists on moving detainees into the United States, a significant impediment to emptying the prison of the 116 alleged terrorists currently housed there.
The Obama administration argues the prison acts as a recruiting tool for terrorists abroad, given its reputation for holding suspected terrorists indefinitely.
“Continuing to operate that prison is not an effective use of our taxpayer resources, and it certainly is not consistent with our national security interests,” Earnest said Wednesday.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has opened the door in Congress for the administration to submit a plan to close the prison in exchange for tightening restrictions on transferring detainees abroad. But it’s considered unlikely the measure will gain enough support from other Republicans to pass.
As Obama has normalized relations with Cuba, the U.S. prison has come under criticism from the government in Havana, which has demanded it be return to Cuban control.
At the official opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington this week, the Cuban foreign minister demanded the “return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo,” a demand his American counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, dismissed.
“At this time there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station,” he said.