Jan 9, 2024 - World

Scoop: Top Biden adviser quietly visits Qatar to discuss hostage talks, regional tensions

Demonstrators during a rally demanding the release of hostages held by Hamas operatives in Tel Aviv, Israel

Demonstrators rally in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Jan. 6 to demand the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Photo: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's top Middle East adviser Brett McGurk met in Doha on Tuesday with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdelrahman al-Thani and discussed regional tensions and efforts to secure the release of hostages held in Gaza, according to a U.S. source and two other sources familiar with the trip.

Why it matters: Qatar is a key U.S. ally in the region and is assisting the Biden administration with efforts to free the hostages held by Hamas. It is also passing messages to Iran and Yemen's Houthi rebels to try to cool down regional tensions.

Between the lines: The White House and the Qatari government kept the trip very low profile. They didn't announce McGurk's visit and didn't issue a readout of his meeting with the Qatari prime minister.

  • The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment and the Qatari Embassy in Washington, D.C., declined to comment.

Driving the news: Qatar, together with Egypt, is trying to mediate between Israel and Hamas on a new hostage deal. The hostages still being held in Gaza include several Americans.

  • Israel and Hamas have given proposals for a deal but wide gaps remain.
  • Negotiations resumed earlier this week after Hamas suspended the talks for several days over Israel's killing of Hamas official Saleh Al-Arouri in Beirut, according to sources briefed on the issue.

The big picture: McGurk's trip follows a visit by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who is on a regional tour to discuss the war in Gaza and escalating tensions across the Middle East.

  • Blinken met on Tuesday in Tel Aviv with the families of the American hostages held in Gaza. Blinken emphasized that bringing all the hostages home to their families is a top priority of the administration, according to a statement by the families.
  • "We're intensely focused on bringing the remaining hostages home," Blinken told reporters Tuesday.
  • Blinken also discussed the hostage issue with the heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet spy agencies in Israel.

Go deeper: Qatar tells hostages' families that getting deal harder after Hamas leader's killing

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