WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden spoke Friday with his Egyptian and Qatari counterparts ahead of a trip by his CIA director meant to press toward a deal to secure the release of more hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a pause to fighting with Israel in Gaza.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. He added that while talks have been constructive, “We should not expect any imminent developments.”
"We continue to do everything we can to facilitate another hostage deal, just as we did in November,” Kirby added.
CIA Director Bill Burns is slated to soon meet in Europe with David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, according to three people familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks.
The meeting will focus on the release of hostages in exchange for a pause in hostilities. The Biden administration’s hope is that an agreement could lead to an extended cease-fire that could eventually bring an end to the conflict, according to a U.S. official.
The CIA and the White House National Security Council declined to comment on the meeting.
Burns’ trip comes after a visit to the Mideast by White House senior envoy Brett McGurk this week focused on winning the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza.
McGurk has also been laying the groundwork for another trip to the region by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who next week could make his fifth trip to the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.
Biden's conversation with the Qatari emir came after the Gulf country spoke out about this week about a recording of leaked remarks made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he criticized Qatar’s mediation efforts with Hamas.
In a meeting with families of hostages held by Hamas, Netanyahu said Qatar’s role in the mediation was “problematic.” Qatar helped secure a weeklong truce in November in which over 100 hostages were released from Gaza. It also has deep ties to Hamas and hosts some of its exiled leaders. The country said Netanyahu’s remarks were “irresponsible and destructive.”
Asked if Biden and al-Thani discussed Netanyahu's criticism, Kirby said that “the main purpose of the call was to discuss the possibilities of another hostage deal” and a temporary pause in fighting to facilitate the hostages' safe release.
Some 1,200 people were killed and Hamas and other militants abducted around 250 people during their Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel. Around 100 hostages were freed under a weeklong cease-fire deal in November in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Around 130 remain captive, but some have since been confirmed dead. Hamas has said it will free more captives only in exchange for an end to the war and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.