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US Adopts Firm Stance on Hostage Takers - 2002-02-21

The Bush administration, in a updated policy statement Wednesday, said the United States will do everything it can to get the release of Americans kidnapped overseas, be they government official or private citizens. But it says the government will not pay ransom to hostage-takers.

The policy statement does not differ greatly from its predecessor issued in 1995 in its emphasis on the refusal of the United States to pay ransom, release prisoners or make any other concession to kidnappers that might encourage further terrorism.

But it does make clear that the United States will take the kidnapping of its private citizens just as seriously as the abduction of government officials and will do everything it can up to and including military action, if necessary, to bring about the release of American nationals.

The inter-agency policy review that produced Wednesday's statement was begun by the White House National Security Council at the close of the Clinton administration. But its release took on added significance given last month's kidnapping in Pakistan of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and, among other cases, the detention of American missionary couple Gracia and Martin Burnham by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in the Philippines.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher served notice on terrorist groups and renegade governments alike that the United States will do everything possible to get the safe return of its abducted citizens.

"If somebody holds an American, either a group, a criminal gang, a government that we don't recognize, or for that matter even a government, that they're not going to get any benefit out of it, and that we're going to do everything we can to get them out," said Mr. Boucher. "And if we find that we can do something to get them out it may be demarches, it may be pounding on a foreign ministry door, it may be working with law enforcement authorities but we're going to look and see what we can do to get Americans who are being held out of detention."

While ruling out concessions to hostage-takers, the new policy does not preclude U.S. government contact with representatives of the captors.

It also does not forbid outright the payment of ransoms by U.S. private citizens or companies but says the United States "strongly urges" them not to accede to hostage-taker demands.