Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a White House official traveled to Damascus to hold secret meetings with the Syrian government, seeking the release of at least two American citizens whom Washington believes are being held by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The newspaper said – quoting White House officials – that the chief counterterrorism official at the White House, Cash Patel, traveled to Damascus earlier this year in an attempt to release the detainees, and officials familiar with the trip refused to reveal who had met Patel during his trip.
The United States cut diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012, in protest of Assad’s crackdown on demonstrators who have called for reforms in the country.
American officials hope – according to the newspaper – that the deal with the Assad regime will lead to the release of freelance journalist Austin Tice, a former Marine who disappeared while covering events in Syria in 2012, and the Syrian-American therapist Majd Kamalmaz, who disappeared after being stopped at an affiliated checkpoint. To the Syrian government in 2017.
The Syrian government is believed to be holding at least 4 other Americans, but little is known about these cases.
The newspaper said that the US State Department refused to comment on this news, and White House officials did not respond to requests for comment, and the Syrian mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment on the visit.
Both the administrations of US President Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, isolated Assad, but he sought help from Russia and Iran to quell the protests that sought to remove him from power.
Last week, the head of Lebanon’s Public Security Agency, Abbas Ibrahim, met with White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien to discuss the conditions of Americans detained in Syria, according to people who participated in the talks, the newspaper reported.
Ibrahim worked as a vital mediator between the United States and Syria last year, and helped secure the release of the American traveler Sam Goodwin, who was detained for more than two months while visiting Syria, as part of his attempt to visit all countries of the world.
Last week, Patil helped broker a deal that led to the release of two Americans detained by Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen, in exchange for the return of more than 200 Houthi loyalists stranded outside the country.
The Trump administration is also trying to pressure Venezuela to release 6 oil managers detained since 2017, and two other Americans were arrested last May after entering Venezuela, accused of participating in a coup attempt to topple President Nicolás Maduro.