Assad wants US sanction relief, troops out for hostages

By Servet Gunerigok

WASHINGTON (AA) – Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is reportedly seeking the removal of US sanctions and troops from Syria in return for the release of two Americans.

Citing a Lebanese official, Newsweek magazine reported Tuesday that Lebanese General Security director Major General Abbas Ibrahim visited Washington on Thursday and was carrying with him information about American journalist Austin Tice and Syrian-American health worker Majd Kamalmaz.

Tice went missing while covering the war there in 2012, and Kamalmaz, a psychotherapist, is believed to have been taken by Syrian forces after being stopped at a checkpoint in Damascus in 2017.

"Ibrahim met with White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien for some four hours in a discussion that outlined Syrian demands as part of a negotiation to end the uncertainty about the two apparently captive men's whereabouts," said the report.

The Lebanese official and a Syrian source familiar with the discussions confirmed the Assad government is seeking a deal with President Donald Trump’s administration on the removal of US sanctions and pullout of troops deployed at Al-Tanf garrison, according to Newsweek.

The news came days after The Wall Street Journal reported that Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to Trump and the top White House counterterrorism official, met with officials from Assad's government earlier this year.

The secret talks were aimed at securing the release of Tice and Ka­mal­maz.

The last known talks between White House and Syrian officials in Damascus took place in 2010 and the US cut off relations with Syria in 2012 to protest Assad’s crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his regime.

Trump wrote to Assad in March to propose "direct dialogue" to seek Tice's release.