WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged in a broadcast interview that it would be difficult to meet the Obama administration's January 22 deadline for closing the Guantanamo detention camp.
Asked directly whether that deadline would be met, Gates told ABC's "This Week" program, "It's going to be tough."
Recent reports have suggested the administration may not meet the deadline because of legal, political, and diplomatic issues involving the detainees at the controversial prison at a U.S. naval base in Cuba.
There are still some 223 detainees at the facility set up by the Bush administration in 2002 to hold foreign terrorism suspects captured after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan.
Some detainees are expected to be transferred abroad while others could face charges in U.S. military tribunals or in American courtrooms. The Justice Department said on September 26 that three detainees had been sent to Ireland and Yemen.
Gates said, "I actually was one of those who said we should [set a deadline] because I know enough from being around this town that if you don't put a deadline on something, you'll never move the bureaucracy.
"But I also said and then if we find we can't get it done by that time but we have a good plan, then you're in a position to say it's going to take us a little longer but we are moving in the direction of implementing the policy that the president set," he said.
An administration official said on September 26 that the White House was close to selecting a location on U.S. soil to house some detainees.
"We are doing everything we can to close it by the [January] date," the official said, adding, "We are in the final stages of locating a secure facility in the U.S. where detainees can be held."
Republicans have criticized Obama for wanting to close Guantanamo since it is already set up for detention and trials.
Most Democrats have backed the overall plan to close Guantanamo, pointing to international criticism of the detention camp and concerns the prison has provided a rallying cry to militant groups like Al-Qaeda.