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Politics chat: White House negotiating the release of American hostages

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

A third group of hostages was released by Hamas today. Among them, so far, we've confirmed one American, a 4-year-old girl, Abigail Edan. Abigail turned 4 on Friday while in captivity, and both of her parents were killed in the October 7 attack. There is one more day remaining in the cease-fire that's part of the deal to release the hostages. And the situation remains very fluid. Here is what White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on NBC's "Meet The Press" earlier this morning. He was asked if U.S. officials had seen a list naming which hostages would be set free.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

JAKE SULLIVAN: I'm not going to get into exactly what we've seen, but I will tell you that we are in extremely close touch, down to every possible detail. But we proceed with caution because we're dealing with a terrorist group here, so we can't be absolutely certain about what is going to happen.

MCCAMMON: And President Biden just gave some remarks. To talk more about what the Biden administration is hoping for in the coming days and weeks, we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So it sounds like there are still quite a few unknowns here. This deal was meant to ensure that the women and children taken by Hamas would be released. What have you heard about the effort to release the rest of the hostages?

KHALID: Well, as you mentioned, Abigail's release is actually the first successful transfer - release of a hostage of an American citizen since this temporary truce began. President Biden spoke just moments ago from Nantucket, Mass., where he's been vacationing. He spoke to reporters. And he said, when asked about the other Americans who are currently unaccounted for, that he remains hopeful, but he does not have anything firmly to share at this moment about their release. You know, Biden says that he will do everything possible to ensure all the hostages are freed.

We've been told by White House officials that there's approximately 10 Americans who remain unaccounted for. But, you know, Abigail's release is really the first one. And the president spoke, I think, in rather sort of heartwarming terms just about how much significant that was because, as you know, we all have heard, her parents, both of them were killed on the - during the October 7 Hamas attacks. And she herself turned 4 while being held by Hamas militants there in Gaza.

You know, at this point, Sarah, I think the president does deserve credit. His team has been back-channeling and working quite a bit to ensure that this temporary truce remains on track. But it does remain very fluid, as you said. And I think at this point, what we have been told is that it seems like it might be extended another day. The president himself said if 10 hostages are freed, under the terms of the deal, that should mean that another day of this truce could continue.

MCCAMMON: So a lot of back-channel communication for several days, it sounds like.

KHALID: That's right. And the president said - his team has said that they have been actively involved with the Qataris, the Israelis, the Egyptians to ensure that this could remain on track. Yesterday, there was some hourslong delay when it looked like things might be derailed. And ultimately, the president himself got on the phone with the emir of Qatar and tried to sort out what some of those logjams were. You know, the president has said he intends to remain personally engaged to ensure that this deal is fully implemented and ensure that this deal is extended. He was asked how long this deal, you know, could be extended, how long he'd like to see it extend. And it sounds like he wants it to go on, this pause, for as long as it takes to ensure that the hostages can keep coming out.

MCCAMMON: And, Asma, throughout this crisis, we've been hearing about the political challenges Biden is facing with parts of his base, particularly with younger voters. Is there any thinking that helping to broker this deal might help Biden politically?

KHALID: I mean, well, part of this deal entails allowing additional aid into Gaza. There are hundreds and - hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been prevented from leaving Gaza, who have lacked access to basic necessities like food and medicine. And part of this deal is about allowing a surge in aid trucks into Gaza to assist those Palestinians. So, you know, the president, I would say, does deserve credit for helping broker this deal to ensure that these negotiations could go on. But, Sarah, young voters don't just want a temporary truce. They want a cease-fire. And it's not clear to me that if the fighting resumes - and you see images on social media of death and destruction in Gaza - that Biden will really see much of a shift with those younger voters.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Thanks so much for your reporting, Asma.

KHALID: Good to talk to you as always. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.