A US official has revealed that Washington offered an unidentified ally to help Syria’s first lady Asma Al-Assad get cancer treatment two years ago, as a strategy to advance negotiations for the regime to release US hostages.
In October last year, during the administration of former President Donald Trump, it was revealed that a small American delegation held talks with the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus months earlier. The goal of that secret visit was to negotiate the release of several American hostages abducted by the regime, among them the journalist Austin Tice who disappeared in 2012.
It came as a surprise to many, seeing as the US had broken off its ties with the regime in 2012 and evacuated its diplomatic mission from the country. Those efforts ultimately failed, however, as the regime made demands which would have entirely overturned the US’ Syria policy, such as the complete withdrawal of US troops and the lifting of all sanctions.
The former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then himself publicly refused to change US policy even for hostages such as Tice. A month after the revelation of the secret meeting, it was revealed that the Lebanese security chief also visited Syria to urge for the release of Tice.
Those efforts by the US and Lebanon have now been confirmed and further elaborated on by former top White House counterterrorism official Kash Patel, who led the delegation. In an interview with the Associated Press, Patel revealed that aside from working on the case for over a year and soliciting the help of Lebanon due to its relations with Al-Assad, the US also offered to help treat the Syrian dictator’s wife Asma Al-Assad who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
That treatment was reportedly offered to be undertaken by an “ally” of the US within the region, with that ally remaining unidentified. The offer was evidently made long before the delegation’s visit took place, as Asma Al-Assad announced in August 2019 that she had fully recovered from cancer.
Looking back on the failure of the negotiations, despite that offer, Patel told Associated Press that “Success would have been bringing the Americans home and we never got there.” He lamented: “I would say it’s probably one of my biggest failures under the Trump administration, not getting Austin back.”