State: Paying ransoms puts US citizens ‘at risk’

The Obama administration said Monday it will not review the country’s long-standing policy against negotiating with terrorists who have American hostages.

"Our belief continues to be that the paying of ransom puts U.S. citizens at risk," State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said.  

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Her comments came after the family of slain American journalist James Foley urged the U.S. to reconsider its approach to hostages.

Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Reports said the militant group had demanded a $100 million ransom for the reporter. Other countries have paid ransom money to terror groups to free captured citizens.

“I really, really hope that Jim’s death pushes us to take another look at our approach to terrorist and hostage negotiation,” said Foley’s brother.

In an interview Monday, Foley’s father said "the negotiation process has been very uneven,” and expressed hopes that other hostages would be freed.

Officials Monday said they did not pay a ransom for the recent release of American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who had been held hostage by al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. The U.S. said it had asked Qatar, which negotiated his release, not to pay a ransom either. 

"We don't make concessions to terrorist organizations, including paying ransom. We also don't support any third parties paying ransom and did not do so in this case," Psaki said.

She would not confirm whether Qatar paid any ransom.

"We have also not been told by the Qataris or any other party that there was anything more than that," she said.

Officials say that while U.S. policy is to not negotiate with terrorists, the country does reach out to other countries to help free hostages. 

Earlier this year, the administration negotiated through Qatar for the release of Afghanistan prisoner of war Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The administration released five senior Taliban detainees from the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in exchange for Bergdahl in May. 

Officials said Monday they had reached out to more than two dozen countries for help in securing the release of American hostages. 

"A range of senior U.S. government officials, including from the State Department, were in touch with partners in the region and specifically with the Qataris about working for the release of American citizens held in Syria," Psaki said. 

Psaki noted that Secretary of State John Kerry has been personally involved in Curtis's release. 

"Mr. Curtis has a strong connection to Massachusetts. The secretary has been engaged in this, as have a number of other senior U.S. officials," she said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest downplayed the U.S. role in the release, saying it had introduced Curtis's family to Qatari officials, who took the lead.

"The role of the U.S. government in this situation was to facilitate a conversation between Mr. Curtis's family and the Qatari government. And from there, the Qatari government pursued through their established relationships a conversation with the individuals who are holding Mr. Curtis, and they secured his release," Earnest said. 

"In this case, because of the kinds of conversations we are able to facilitate between the Curtis family and the Qataris, we were able to eventually secure the release of Mr. Curtis," he added.