In what appears to be a big break for the Obama administration, Palau, a small island nation near the Philippines, has agreed to accept the transfer of Chinese Muslim detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay.

The New York Times reports that the president of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, agreed to accommodate at least some of the 17 Uighurs at Gitmo. It is unclear how many of the 17 will be transferred to Palau.

This will undoubtedly be welcome news in the Obama White House. Since pledging to close Gitmo by next year, Obama has faced significant political pressure over what the U.S. would do with the detainees currently held there.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Uighurs, in particular, have been the focus of much Republican criticism. In the middle of May, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) wrote an op-ed in which he made an example of the Uighurs and suggested that they may be transferred to prisons in northern Virginia.

The criticism aimed at Obama over the plan hasn't only come from Republicans, either. Democratic senators joined their Republican colleagues last month in blocking funding for closing Gitmo until a more detailed plan for the detainees was provided.

The Times reports that the Obama administration had contacted "about 100 governments" about transferring the detainees, an indication of the extent of their efforts to address the problem. The U.S. was wary of shipping the Uighurs back to China for fear they would be persecuted or even executed.

Palau lies 500 miles east of the Philipines and is composed of eight main islands and 250 smaller ones.

It should be insulated from pressure from China over the detainees, the Times notes, because it maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead.

jeremy.jacobs@thehill.com