US says 'no' to handing Guantanamo back to Cuba

Cuban President Raul Castro (R) in the Pedregal building, 20 km northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica, on January 29, 2015 (AFP Photo/Rodrigo Arangua) (AFP)

Washington (AFP) - Efforts to improve ties with Cuba will not extend to handing control of Guantanamo Bay back to Havana, the White House said on Thursday.

"The president does believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed down," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "But the naval base is not something that we wish to be closed."

The base, on Cuba's southeastern tip, is currently the site of a large naval base as well as a deeply controversial prison used to detain terror suspects without trial.

Cuban President Raul Castro on Wednesday said handing back control of the 45 square mile (116 square kilometer) site was a precondition for normalizing ties with the United States.

Castro and Obama simultaneously announced on December 17 their intention to end a half-century of animosity and normalize ties that broke off in 1961.

The US took control of Guantanamo following a treaty in 1903.

Obama has repeatedly stated that holding prisoners at Guantanamo is a recruiting tool for terror groups, but has failed to close down the facility.