Appointment of Jim O’Brien as the First Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage …

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama Appoints First Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday named a senior envoy who would help negotiate the safe return of hostages after criticism of its response to the kidnap and murder of Americans held in Syria. President Barack Obama appointed a former State Department official to the new position of special envoy for hostage affairs, the White House announced Friday.The position was created in the wake of an administration review of how the U.S. deals with hostage situations overseas, an issue that grew especially heated after the Islamic State beheaded American captives. The move was announced on the anniversary of US journalists’ James Foley and Steven Sotloff’s execution by the so-called Islamic State, triggering critical debate over Washington’s handling of the crises.

Concerns about the actions of U.S. officials — including claims that families of hostages were threatened with prosecution if they tried to pay ransoms — led to the review and a number of policy recommendations. He now works for Albright as the vice chairman of Albright Stonebridge Group, her consulting firm. “Jim is exactly the right person for a job that demands a high level of diplomatic experience and the ability to analyze and find effective remedies to complex problems,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. O’Brien served as special presidential envoy for the Balkans during the tumultuous late 1990s, and was a deputy director with the State Department and a senior adviser to Madeline Albright, the State Department said. After Foley’s murder, his family complained the Obama administration had kept them in the dark about developments and had threatened to prosecute them if they sought to pay a ransom.

Parents Diane and John Foley, who have worked on hostage issues and supported hostages’ families since their son’s killing, including in collaboration with the US government, hope O’Brien will save other families from the same heartbreak they suffered. The envoy will work with the newly created “hostage fusion cell,” which brings together diplomats, CIA spies and FBI agents to handle hostage cases. In July, after a policy review, Obama announced the fusion cell and said families would not be threatened with legal action, but reiterated that it remains US policy to make no concessions to kidnappers.

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