Trump names hostage envoy O'Brien national security adviser

Thursday, September 19, 2019

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WASHINGTON, DC, USA (AP) — President Donald Trump yesterday named Robert O'Brien, his chief hostage negotiator and an established figure in Republican policy circles, as his new national security adviser.

O'Brien, the fourth person in two years to hold the job, becomes the administration's point person on national security amid rising tensions with Iran, following the weekend attack on Saudi oil installations and fresh uncertainty in Afghanistan after the halt in peace talks with the Taliban.

The announcement of O'Brien's selection comes a week after Trump ousted John Bolton from the post, citing policy disagreements. O'Brien, who made headlines in July when he was dispatched to Sweden to monitor the assault trial of American rapper A$AP Rocky, was among five candidates Trump said Tuesday were under consideration.

“He's worked with me for quite awhile now on hostages and we have a tremendous track record on hostages,” Trump said on a tarmac in Los Angeles, hours after revealing the pick on Twitter. “Robert has been fantastic. We know each other well.”

O'Brien, standing alongside Trump, said it was a “privilege” to be picked.

“We've got a number of challenges,” he said, adding that the administration's focus will continue to be on keeping the US safe and rebuilding the military. He said he would advise Trump privately on the situation in Saudi Arabia.

Trump abruptly forced out Bolton on September 10, after he and his hawkish national security adviser found themselves in strong disagreement over the administration's approach to Iran, Afghanistan, and a host of other global challenges. The sudden exit marked the latest departure of a prominent voice of dissent from Trump's inner circle, as the president has grown more comfortable following his gut instinct over the studious guidance offered by his advisers.

As the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the US State Department, O'Brien worked closely with the families of American hostages and advised administration officials on hostage issues. He helped secure the release in February of American citizen Danny Burch, who was freed after 18 months in captivity in Yemen.

He has also worked on the case of missing US journalist Austin Tice, who was captured in Syria in 2012. O'Brien has said he is confident Tice is still alive.

The White House sent O'Brien to Sweden to monitor the case of A$AP Rocky, who was charged with assault. The rapper, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, was permitted to return to Los Angeles to await the verdict of a Swedish court, which found him guilty in a street brawl.

Last month, Hua Qu, the wife of a Princeton University graduate student detained in Iran, told reporters that she would like to see the same level of personal attention from the Government as A$AP Rocky received.

Yesterday, a Twitter account that advocates for the release of the student, Xiyue Wang, congratulated O'Brien on the appointment but also said: “We watched with frustration as this administration put all its energies into releasing celebrity A$AP Rocky from Sweden; meanwhile, multiple Americans suffer under terrible conditions in #Iran. Let's put all Americans first, not just famous ones. #AmericansFirst.”


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