Jake Sullivan met in-person with representatives of countries whose citizens Hamas took hostage

President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan convened for the first time this week an in-person meeting of ambassadors and chiefs of mission representing countries whose citizens were taken hostage by Hamas on October 7, CNN has learned, as a ceasefire and hostages release deal remains stalled.

Sullivan met with representatives from 17 nations: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand and the United Kingdom, according to a US official and senior administration official familiar with the meeting. Those 17 countries, along with the United States, have citizens whom Hamas took captive at the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

The group discussed ideas to secure the release of the hostages in Gaza, with a particular focus on ways that they can speak more as a collective group in both public and private settings, according to the senior administration official.

The meeting comes at a critical moment when the efforts to secure the release of hostages and Gaza ceasefire appear to have stalled once again.

The ambassadors and chief of missions gathered with Sullivan brainstormed ways to exert pressure on the negotiating parties – including Israel, Egypt and Qatar – to return to the negotiating table and finalize a ceasefire agreement. One idea that was discussed was finding a way to speak as a collective voice to the United Nations, that official said.

Those same 18 countries had released a statement in late April calling on the release of all hostages, warning that the fate of those individuals is “of international concern” and demanding that Hamas accept a ceasefire deal that Israel had put on the table at the time.

“We emphasize that the deal on the table to release the hostages would bring an immediate and prolonged ceasefire in Gaza, that would facilitate a surge of additional necessary humanitarian assistance to be delivered throughout Gaza, and lead to the credible end of hostilities,” the statement said. “We reiterate our call on Hamas to release the hostages, and let us end this crisis so that collectively we can focus our efforts on bringing peace and stability to the region.”

Sullivan last met with the families of American citizen hostages last week, something he has done numerous times since October 7. The idea of a “working group” of sorts, consisting of the ambassadors and chief of missions representing the 18 countries that convened Wednesday, was borne out of that meeting with the American families, according to the senior administration official.

The efforts from these 18 countries to exert collective pressure on Israel and Hamas to reach a deal comes as Biden is under tremendous pressure both at home and abroad as the war is now in its eighth month.

While the US is working closely with these countries on finding a solution to free the hostages, the administration has also confronted deep concerns about the US policy toward the war and its continued support for Israel amid the high civilian death toll in Gaza. Multiple US diplomats have told CNN in recent weeks that they are consistently hearing those concerns from their counterparts abroad.

“There is the growing concern that this is becoming a national security issue for the US,” said one diplomat speaking about the anger coming from other countries.

The Biden administration is juggling those frustrations and pressure it is receiving from various countries — including those in the Middle East — as it considers its policy in the region, diplomats said.

Earlier this month, Biden told CNN’s Erin Burnett that he would be willing to withhold additional offensive weapons from Israel if it chose to move forward with a major military operation into Rafah. Still, the White House has also been clear that the US remains a steadfast supporter of Israel, including its right to defend itself.

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