A top White House official reportedly went to Damascus this summer to hold secret meetings with the Syrian government for the release of two American hostages in a rare sign of diplomacy between the United States and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. According to a Wall Street Journalreport, Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, tried to negotiate the release of the two hostages with the Assad regime.
Patel's communication with the isolated Syrian government is believed to be the first of its kind since 2010. However, the White House and State Department is yet to comment on the said secret meeting.
A Trump administration official speaking on condition of anonymity to the WSJ has named Patel as a top White House counterterrorism adviser. The goal of Patel's talks with the Assad regime, which reportedly have not gone very far, was to secure the release of at least Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz.
Tice, a freelance journalist, was abducted eight years ago while on assignment in Syria, while and Syrian-American therapist Kamalmaz disappeared in 2017 after being stopped at a government checkpoint. One of Kamalmaz's sons, Ibrahim Kamalmaz, told the newspaper that the Trump administration is actively working to bring his father home. "This administration is committed to our dad's case, and we continue to speak with officials at the highest levels of the U.S. Government to bring dad home," the son said.
"It is emblematic of how President Trump has made it a major priority to bring Americans home who have been detained overseas," said the official on Sunday, who was confirming the report in the WSJ.
Rare Sign of Diplomacy
The Syrian government is believed to have been holding at least four other hostages, whose fate is yet undecided. The secret meeting between Patel and officials in Damascus come as the United States tries to force Assad's regime to negotiate an end to the ongoing civil war and are a part of the Trump administration's broader push to wind down some troop deployments in the Middle East.
This is also the first-of-its kind meeting in almost a decade. Syria erupted into civil war nearly a decade ago after Assad in 2011 began a brutal crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his family's rule. Since assuming office in 2017, Trump has twice launched military strikes on Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons. However, Trump said in March that the White House was working with Syria to secure Tice's release.
Officials at White House also met Abbas Ibrahim, the influential head of Lebanon's General Security agency, last week to negotiate the release of Tice. Ibrahim played a major role in the release of three hostages, including Sam Goodwin, a US citizen released from Syria last year.