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Story highlights

The Obama administration amended U.S. policy regarding hostages on Wednesday

For the first time, U.S. officials can engage in direct talks with groups with hostages

Reaction to the new policy has been mixed

Washington CNN —  

For the more than 30 Americans currently being held abroad, Gary Noesner’s assessment is grim.

“It’s the most lethal time to be a hostage,” the former head of the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit said, speaking before the White House’s announcement this week of its new approach to dealing with American hostages.

But Noesner and other experts on retrieving hostages think that could change with the reforms the White House is embracing, and that some lives might even be saved.

READ: White House says more than 30 Americans held hostage abroad

The reforms loosen the restrictions on negotiating with terrorists and paying ransoms, and are aimed at making a clean break from the most recent iteration of U.S. hostage policy – one described by families of U.S. hostages as ineffective, inflexible and unwieldy.

That policy was brought into focus last summer as ISIS beheaded three Americans – while freeing 15 Europeans whose governments surreptitiously paid, facilitated or allowed ransom transfers to the brutal group.

With the changes outlined Wednesday, families of American hostages will have more latitude and assistance to take the kinds of steps the Europeans did. And they’ll also benefit from a U.S. government ready to engage more with terrorist captors.