Top Trump administration official met with Assad regime over imprisoned Americans
Posted October 18, 2020 10:20 p.m. EDT
CNN — A top Trump administration official met with the Assad regime in Damascus this fall in an effort to secure the release of American prisoners believed to be held by the Syrian dictator, two administration officials confirmed to CNN.
Kash Patel, the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, made the trip with the support of President Donald Trump and in coordination with the State Department, the officials said. The US has not had diplomatic relations with Syria since 2012.
CNN previously reported Trump wrote a letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this year that offered "direct dialogue" over Austin Tice, one of the Americans believed to be held by the Assad regime.
Tice, an American journalist, went missing in Syria in 2012. State Department Special Representative for Syria Jim Jeffrey said in December 2018 that the US believes Tice is alive and "is being held captive inside Syria."
Roger Carstens, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, met with Debra Tice, Austin Tice's mother, at the State Department last week.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report on Patel's visit and the involvement of national security adviser Robert O'Brien in the process.
O'Brien, who was the top hostage negotiator at the State Department before he became Trump's national security adviser, has been engaged in the process. Lebanese security chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim met O'Brien to discuss the Americans held in Syria, according to one administration official.
Ibrahim, director-general of Lebanon's General Directorate of General Security, was involved in helping to secure the release of Sam Goodwin, a 30-year-old American who was held for 62 days after disappearing in Syria last year while traveling.
Tice's family and the family of Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-American who went missing in Syria in 2017, did not provide a comment.
The State Department did not reply to CNN's request for comment.
In September there were concerns about any possible opening in talks with the Assad regime over US prisoners hitting a dead end after Trump admitted to having discussions early on in his presidency about assassinating Assad, after he had denied those conversations two years ago.
"I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn't want to do it," Trump said during an interview in September, referring to then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. "Mattis was against most of that stuff."