CIA Director William Burns will be in Doha, Qatar on Thursday as part of a multi-country visit to the region, according to a diplomatic source and a US official with knowledge of the trip. The career diplomat-turned-intelligence chief is expected to meet with intelligence counterparts and other officials for talks on the Gaza conflict, including preventing the spread of the war and facilitating negotiations for the release of hostages. which seem to have stopped in recent weeks, CBS writes in an article.
There is hope that Burns can help kick-start those efforts, including reviving hostage diplomacy that has faltered since late October. Israel publicly claims that Hamas is not serious about releasing the hostages, but US, Israeli and Qatari officials continue to work behind the scenes with a particular focus on dual-citizen civilians.
The CIA declined to comment on the director’s travels as a matter of policy.
Burns is one of several senior officials the Biden administration has deployed abroad in an effort to prevent the conflict from escalating, support ongoing efforts to boost humanitarian aid to Gaza and secure the release of its hostages. Hamas.
The US estimates there are about 200 hostages and has focused on securing the release of about 50 civilians. Steve Gillen, the deputy special envoy for hostage affairs, has been in Israel for weeks with other State Department officials working on the issue, along with other US intelligence officials.
Since the beginning of October, there have been several attempts at diplomacy to release hostages. CBS News had been informed of an imminent release expected to take place the week of October 23rd. Plans were in place for a humanitarian release of around 50 civilian hostages to coincide with a brief pause in fighting to allow the release to take place safely while humanitarian aid, including fuel, would also be allowed into Gaza. It is not clear why the deal fell apart shortly before it was made.
On October 27, Israel expanded its ground assault on Gaza. The escalation affected hostage diplomacy, but contact continued between the Qatari government and Israeli intelligence. Mossad chief David Barnea visited Doha that Saturday, the day after the ground invasion began.
The White House and Pentagon have since acknowledged that President Biden authorized the use of unarmed drones to help locate American hostages in Gaza. The majority of the prisoners are Israeli citizens.
On Wednesday, a source familiar with the talks centered on the hostages told CBS News there was hope for diplomatic progress. But a US official told CBS News the situation remains uncertain and dismissed speculation about momentum, saying the only way to measure progress is to free the hostages.
The White House continues to tout the recent release of the Chicago-based Raanan family as a “test case” that proves its diplomacy can work. Given the large number of hostages held by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and possibly other groups, coordinating a release would require any pause in the fighting to last more than a few hours. Multiple US officials told CBS News that the release of the Raanan mother and daughter was a “proof of concept” that showed Qatar could negotiate with Hamas and that the neutral entity of the International Committee of the Red Cross could facilitate the release. once an agreement is reached.
On Sunday, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, told “Face the Nation” that Hamas was simply “playing for time, because Hamas is trying to stop our military efforts.” He went on to argue that the bombing and ground invasion would help hostage efforts by putting more pressure on Hamas.
Speaking from Tokyo on Wednesday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reiterated US support for humanitarian pauses in Israel’s military operations in Gaza to address an “urgent need” on the ground. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Blinken’s push for a ceasefire, saying Hamas must agree to release the hostages as part of it.
A senior Israeli official told CBS News and other reporters on Tuesday that Israel is ready for a ceasefire if it specifically determines that Hamas is serious about releasing the hostages.
Ten Americans remain missing after Hamas attacked border communities in southern Israel on October 7. More than 1,400 people, including 36 US citizens, were killed and more than 5,400 injured in the attack. Israel’s retaliation in Gaza has killed more than 10,000 people, including more than 4,000 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Burns, who served as the US ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001, speaks Arabic and is one of the few members of the Biden administration to publicly sound the alarm that the Middle East is ripe for a “fire” ignited by the war in Gaza. He arrived in Israel on Sunday and was expected to make stops in Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries on his trip.
Burns has previously been dispatched by Biden at times of heightened geopolitical tension. He traveled to Moscow in November 2021 to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against invading Ukraine. In August of that year, as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan approached, Burns also traveled to Kabul to meet with the then de facto leader of the Taliban, Abdul Ghani Baradar. In May he secretly traveled to Beijing to build ties with his intelligence counterpart there.