American journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Syria eight years ago, and is believed to have been a captive there since. Now, in what Bloomberg calls a "rare sign of diplomacy," sources say the White House's top counterterrorism official has traveled there for secret talks to negotiate for the release of Tice, Syrian American Majd Kamalmaz, and at least four other US citizens thought to be hostages there. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the meeting in Damascus earlier this year between an unnamed Syrian official (or officials) and Kashyap "Kash" Patel, a deputy assistant to President Trump. There hasn't been a meeting of such a high-level US official in Syria with that country's government since 2010, shortly before the Syrian civil war began.
"It is emblematic of how President Trump has made it a major priority to bring Americans home who have been detained overseas," a Trump administration official tells Reuters, confirming the WSJ report. Trump has taken a special interest in the Tice case: In March, he wrote a letter to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad asking for a "direct dialogue" about Tice, and on the eighth anniversary of Tice's disappearance this summer, Trump issued a statement "calling on Syria to help us bring him home." The Syrian government hasn't provided proof that Tice and Kamalmaz are alive, but their families believe they are. "This administration is committed to our dad's case, and we continue to speak with officials at the highest levels of the US government to bring Dad home," one of Kamalmaz's sons tells the WSJ. There's been no comment thus far from the White House or the State Department. (Read more Syria stories.)