Hostage families’ mission to meet the president

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Relatives of American hostages and political detainees held abroad are looking forward to a meeting with President Biden.

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Running news: The release of an American journalist held in Myanmar last week has raised some hopes. So, too, have four years of Donald Trump’s unusually public enthusiasm and priority of hostage talks – with some notable successes.

  • Myanmar government’s release of Danny Fenster was safe Bill Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador and New Mexico Governor who runs a non-profit that has played a major role in private hostage negotiations.
  • “Sometimes it takes an unconventional approach, and it can’t be the government,” said Roger Carstens, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA). Press conference Celebrating the homecoming of Fenster.

came after the release of Fenster one october 25 open letter In which more than two dozen families called on the Biden administration to do more to ensure the release of their loved ones. He expressed disappointment that he could not meet Biden or his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

  • Last week, Trevor Reid, a former US Marine who has been jailed in Russia since August 2019, released a letter detailing his poor prison condition. A spokesman for the family urged the Biden administration to strike a deal with Russia to bring him home.
  • And Els Woodke – the wife of US aid worker Jeff Woodke, who was taken hostage by jihadists in Niger in 2016 – asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “honor the promise” that he would “take no choice” at the table. In the case of Jeff.
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why it matters: The hostage crisis is one of the most emotionally excruciating issues any president has to deal with. Each administration must strike a balance between prioritizing the freedom of prisoners, easing the suffering of families, and managing thorny bilateral issues with foreign governments.

Behind the scenes: Half a century in politics, Biden has long had sympathy up his sleeve. Several hostage advocates told Nerdshala that they believe the president’s principal adviser is deliberately shielding him from the personal suffering of these stories in order to reduce his ability to make emotional decisions.

  • They see Sullivan, a Yale and Oxford graduate with a reputation as a highly skilled foreign policy strategist, as their biggest obstacle to personal audiences with Biden. Some people tell the Nerdshala that they believe Sullivan holds most of the hostages’ cases unsolved.
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A senior official in the Biden administration Having told Nerdshala that the government sees these matters as difficult, Sullivan treats them as a top priority and continually raises them in dialogue with foreign counterparts.

  • The officer pointed to the comment a white house press briefing 26, where Sullivan said he was briefing Biden in person every day on the 16 American missionaries kidnapped in Haiti. Two have since been freed.
  • To a question why Biden hasn’t met any family, the official said the NSC sees “recurring” and “durable” engagement with families as the best long-term approach.

how it works: The SPEHA office was created in 2015 by the Obama administration to take hostage advocacy out of the long list of bilateral issues the US must address along with unfriendly governments such as Russia or Venezuela.

  • Biden told Carstens, a Trump appointee who is widely respected by families and advocates, to continue serving when he took office.

zoom in: Trevor Reid’s parents say they have weekly engagements with Carsten and the State Department.

  • Reid’s father, Joy, told Nerdshala that Blinken held a virtual meeting with dozens of hostage families six days after his confirmation in February: “He stayed on the phone until everyone was asked questions about their loved ones or Didn’t get to make a statement, and he seemed very, very honest.”
  • Joy Reid also told Nerdshala He was grateful that Biden raised his son’s case when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June. But demands for his release have been rejected, and the family has been unable to speak with Trevor since he was transferred to a labor camp in August.

On the other end: Trump – for better or worse – liked the idea of ​​a deal-making role for himself and embraced the optics of a high-profile release like that of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was liberated from Turkey in 2018.

  • One lawyer described himself as a “card-carrying Democrat,” adding, “If I were a single-issue mortgage voter and I didn’t care about anything else – 150% I would be voting for Trump. “

yes but: The two administrations have at times struck deals at the cost of American hostages, demonstrating how frightening the issue can be in the context of broader US foreign policy.

  • Trump and Biden each agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan without bringing home Mark Frerichs and Paul Overby, the only two Americans held captive by the Taliban.

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