BEIJING -- President Obama directly acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay will not close by the January deadline he set, but he said he hoped to still achieve that goal sometime next year.
Obama refused, however, to set a new deadline.
In an interview in the Chinese capital with Major Garrett of Fox News, Obama said he was "not disappointed" that the Guantanamo deadline had slipped, saying he "knew this was going to be hard."
"People, I think understandably, are fearful after a lot of years where they were told that Guantanamo was critical to keep terrorists out," Obama said. Closing the facility, he added, is "also just technically hard."
Obama came to office pledging to shut a detainee facility that had become a symbol for prisoner abuse at the hands of American officials. He signed orders to shut the military prison by January 2010, but White House officials quickly encountered resistance from members of Congress opposed to moving prisoners to U.S. soil and from other countries they had hoped would accept detainees.
There was also a tangle of legal issues involving what to do with suspected terrorists who had been tortured in prison in a way that jeopardized the integrity of the evidence against them, or who for other reasons could not stand trial.
Last week, the administration announced that it will try five Guantanamo prisoners -- including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- in federal court in New York. The fate of dozens of other detainees remains in limbo.
Guantanamo is a sensitive subject in China, where Obama conducted the television interview shortly before wrapping up a two-day visit. The United States has refused to release some ethnic minorities, known as Uighurs, back to Chinese officials for fear that they will be tortured. Several Uighurs who had been detained at Guantanamo have been sent instead to Bermuda and Palau after being cleared as non-combatants.
Despite the slow trickle of prisoners out of the facility, Obama insisted in the interview that the facility will be shuttered eventually.
"We are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantanamo will be closed next year," he said. "I'm not going to set an exact date because a lot of this is also going to depend on cooperation from Congress."