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Jesse Jackson willing to negotiate for hostages

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says he is willing to travel to Iraq to seek the release of hostages.

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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
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Jesse Jackson

(CNN) -- American civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday that he has "had prayer" with the wife of Thomas Hamill, an American contractor abducted in Iraq, and promised his family he would try to win his freedom.

Jackson said he was also "reaching out" to the family of U.S. Army Pfc. Matt Maupin, a U.S. soldier who also was kidnapped in Iraq by insurgents, and had joined with Pope John Paul II in calling for the release of all hostages kidnapped in Iraq.

"If I knew who was holding them, I would appeal to them directly," Jackson said. "We've already begun to make some back-channel contacts to them."

He said he was willing to travel to Iraq to negotiate for the hostages, but only "if I know with whom to talk and know where to go."

Jackson said he was trying to contact the Arab-language satellite networks to broadcast his appeal.

"Suffice it to say, they watch CNN, they watch Al-Jazeera, and if your voices are heard, it gives us at least a reasonable penetration," he said.

But key on the list of contacts, he said, were Iraq's religious leaders.

"Each time we brought Americans home from hostile zones, the religious leaders played a significant role in making that appeal," said Jackson, referring to his earlier efforts to free hostages in international conflicts.

In 1984, Jackson successfully secured the release of a Navy pilot held in Syria. In 1991, he helped secure the release of 500 "international guests" held in Iraq and in 1999, he worked to convince Yugoslavia to release three U.S. soldiers held there during the Kosovo conflict.

Five people are known to be held by Iraqis in addition to Maupin and Hamill: a Dane, three Italians and an Arab from east Jerusalem.

A U.S. soldier and six civilian contractors are "unaccounted for," and two Germans are missing and presumed dead. An Italian who had been held was executed, and 43 hostages have been released.

Jackson also noted that the idea of a swap -- as the insurgents holding Maupin said in a videotape they wanted to do -- must be considered.

"The U.S. is holding a significant number of theirs," he said. "I think in a situation like this ... the issue of negotiation and swap must not be out of the picture," Jackson said.

Jackson further urged that any American negotiators should "refrain from name calling."

"I would certainly not try to incite them," he said. "One of the key features of negotiation is try to relieve their fears. One can be sensitive to the pain of the other without engaging and embracing their politics."

"Certainly if someone has all the odds in their favor, they have the hatchet in their hand, and your neck is over the fence, you do nothing to incite them," he added. "You appeal to their better judgment, you make humanitarian, moral appeal, not a military threat."

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