August 25, 2014
Washington, DC: White House Press Briefing with Josh Earnest, Press Secretary
Q Okay. And I wanted to ask about the release of Peter Theo Curtis by al Nusra. The family and U.S. officials have said that there was no exchange of money that they know of. So if there was no ransom paid, no money that exchanged hands, what’s your understanding of why he was released?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. The first is, as you know, Julie, it is the policy of the United States government not to provide ransoms to terrorists to secure the release of hostages, even American hostages. This is a policy that the United States has pursued for a long time and has been in place for a long time. That policy is in place because providing ransoms to terrorist organizations only gives those terrorist organizations access to more funds and resources. It also makes American citizens more likely targets of terrorist organizations, knowing that they could eventually hold them for ransom.
So this is a policy that we have pursued, and that not only do we not pay ransoms, we tell other organizations and countries not to pay ransoms for American citizens for precisely those reasons.
So what I can tell you is that the -- as you point out, the Curtis family said that the Qatari government told them that they did not pay a ransom for Mr. Curtis. The United States government certainly did not ask the Qataris to pay a ransom. In fact, we asked the Qataris, consistent with our longstanding policy, to not pay a ransom for Mr. Curtis. That, all said, we are grateful in knowing that Mr. Curtis is coming home after so much time held in captivity in Syria. And on behalf of the American people, we join Mr. Curtis’s family and his loved ones in welcoming his freedom.
Q But it still leaves open the question then of why he was released, and so I’m trying to get a sense of what you think the reason was. Was there something else that was promised to al Nusra? Was there money that was paid by --
MR. EARNEST: Certainly not. Certainly not by the United States.
Q There was nothing else promised to al Nusra?
MR. EARNEST: Again, not by the United States.
Q By the Qataris?
MR. EARNEST: The role of the U.S. government in this situation was to facilitate a conversation between Mr. Curtis’s family and the Qatari government. And from there, the Qatari government pursued, through their established relationships, a conversation with the individuals who were holding Mr. Curtis, and they secured his release.
Q Is there something that they promised this group?
MR. EARNEST: Again, you’d have to ask them. They certainly didn’t -- they told Mr. Curtis’s family that they did not pay a ransom. The United States made clear, and it is clear to the Qatari government, that we did not want them to pay a ransom. In fact, we encouraged them not to pay a ransom. But in terms of trying to get in the head of these individuals who were holding captive an American citizen is just not something I’m in a position to do.
Q The role of Qatar in this, is this something that you’re encouraging?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we certainly are pleased that Mr. Curtis has been released, and we certainly are and we welcome his return to his family and loved ones. The Qataris played the role based on the existing relationships that they have in the region, and so we’re certainly pleased with the outcome, if that’s what you’re asking. But maybe that’s not what you’re asking, because I guess that seems a little obvious. We’re certainly --
Q I was wondering if you’re going to rely on them going forward and trying to get more hostages out.
MR. EARNEST: I see. Well, let me go at it this way. Mr. Curtis had been held in captivity for a couple of years, and the United States, as we have done with other Americans who were being held hostage around the world, has pursued a wide range of leads to try to secure that individual’s release.
So the United States, as it relates specifically to Mr. Curtis’s case, over the last two years had been in touch with more than two dozen countries to ask them for their assistance in securing Mr. Curtis’s release. So the United States will continue to use all of the tools in our arsenal to try to secure the release of American citizens who are being held hostage around the world. In this case, because of the kinds of conversations that we were able to facilitate between the Curtis family and the Qataris, we were able to eventually secure the release of Mr. Curtis. We welcome his release. And we will continue -- and when I say “we” I mean the United States government and the Obama administration will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of all Americans who are held overseas so that they, too, can be reunited with their families.