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Obama: We should do everything to help hostages
01:50 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Government officials will be allowed to negotiate with terror groups but will still not make 'substantive concessions'

The White House makes clear that families won't be threatened with prosecution if they pay ransoms

Obama establishes an interagency task force to spearhead hostage-freeing efforts

Washington CNN  — 

The U.S. government will now communicate with terrorist groups holding the more than 30 Americans currently hostage abroad, one of a slew of changes to the nation’s hostage policy that President Barack Obama announced Wednesday.

The U.S. government will stick to its “no concessions” policy – often incorrectly interpreted as “no negotiations” – while also allowing government officials going forward to talk with terrorist groups like ISIS that have kidnapped Americans, according to a presidential policy directive Obama outlined on Wednesday.

More than 30 Americans are currently held hostage abroad, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, who oversaw the policy review, told reporters on Wednesday.

The tally includes those who are held hostage by terrorist groups as well as criminal gangs and cartels, according to a senior official, who said the government couldn’t provide a further breakdown for safety reasons.

READ: FBI assisted Weinstein family with ransom payment

The changes to the hostage policy, which also include the creation of an interagency “fusion cell” to streamline efforts to free American hostages and improve communication between the government and families, follow a months-long review of U.S. policy that included interviews with nearly two-dozen families of current and former U.S. hostages.

Obama also made it clear that the U.S. government will not prosecute families looking to pay ransoms to terrorist groups holding their loved ones hostage – a threat some families faced during their ordeals.

“No family of an American hostage has ever been prosecuted for paying ransom for their loved one. The last thing we should ever do is to add to a family’s pain with threats like that,” Obama said at the White House.

“The bottom line is this: When it comes to how our government works to recover hostages, we are changing how we do business,” he said.

The presidential directive issued by Obama reiterates U.S. policy “to deny hostage-takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession.

“However, this policy does not preclude engaging in communications with hostage-takers,” the directive says.

Obama noted that many changes he ordered on Wednesday “are a direct result” of the families’ feedback and said that he considered the policy changes not just through the lens of president, but as a husband and father.