Obama taps first hostage affairs envoy after policy review

Story highlights

  • James O'Brien, a top adviser to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, will lead the diplomatic efforts to free American hostages
  • Obama launched a full-scale review of U.S. hostage recovery efforts that concluded in June

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama will name a former State Department official who served as a top negotiator during the Bosnian War as the first special envoy for hostage affairs.

James O'Brien, who also served as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, will lead the U.S.'s diplomatic efforts with foreign governments as it looks to secure the release of American hostages held abroad, the White House said in a press release Friday.
Obama created the position in June as part of an effort to streamline the U.S.'s hostage recovery efforts after several American hostages held by terrorist groups were killed in the last year. More than 30 Americans were still held abroad when Obama announced the policy changes that month.
    The White House launched a review of its hostage recovery efforts after the families of several American hostages killed abroad complained of ineffective, tangled and, at times, uncaring efforts to free their loved ones. O'Brien is set to be the first person appointed to one of the newly created positions stemming from the hostage policy review, which concluded in June.
    Secretary of State John Kerry called O'Brien "exactly the right person for a job that demands a high level of diplomatic experience" and finding solutions to complex problems.
    Kerry said O'Brien will be "in close contact with the families of American hostages," will meet with foreign leaders and U.S. policymakers to craft effective strategies to free American hostages.
    Kerry added that O'Brien will work closely with the interagency "hostage recovery fusion cell," which will be the nucleus for the U.S. government's hostage release efforts and is also a result of the hostage policy review.
    "That review recognized the need for fully coordinated action across U.S. agencies in responding to hostage situations and to the military, diplomatic, legal, and humanitarian issues that such situations generate," Kerry said. "In his new position, Jim will be focused on one overriding goal: using diplomacy to secure the safe return of Americans held hostage overseas."
    A common complaint among the families of hostages is the lack of an emissary to coax foreign governments into assisting with locating and recovering American hostages.
    O'Brien will now be the first to officially lead those efforts, taking on the role after 14 years at the Albright StoneBridge Group, a consulting firm where he is currently a vice chairman leading the firm's "client engagements in the consumer goods, heath, entertainment, environment, and financial sectors," according to his biography on the firm's page.
    As special presidential envoy for the Balkans in the 1990s, O'Brien engaged the parties in the conflict and negotiated weapons control agreements with the Soviet Union.
    Lisa Monaco, Obama's Homeland Security adviser who oversaw the hostage policy review, said the new role O'Brien is set to fill will "enhance our focus on diplomatic efforts to ensure the safe return of American hostages to their families."
    The parents of journalist James Foley, who was murdered by ISIS last summer, said in a statement they were "grateful" O'Brien has taken on the responsibility.
    "We are grateful for Mr. O'Brien's willingness to serve as the Presidential Special Envoy for American hostages and hopeful that under his leadership many of our American hostages will return home," they said.