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3 Americans could be released as part of the deal to get hostages out of Gaza

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Among the hostages that Hamas has been holding is a 3-year-old American girl whose parents were killed on the October 7 attack. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has been following the effort to release Abigail and the other Americans. Franco, good morning. Thank you for joining us.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So can you just tell us what went into reaching this deal and what specific role the Biden administration played in these negotiations?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. It was a lot of work. You know, the Qatari government served as kind of the main middleman for the sensitive talks. Egypt also played a role, but the U.S. was very involved right from the start. U.S. officials told us that Qatari officials approached the White House at the beginning, soon after October 7, about working on a potential deal to release the hostages. You know, the sides established a channel to work on it, and negotiations were long and intense for five weeks. One U.S. official described negotiations to us as being extremely excruciating. The president spoke with the American families of hostages. He also spoke regularly with the Prime Minister of Israel as well as the Emir of Qatar.

You know, he released - Biden, that is, released a statement last night welcoming the deal and thanking Qatar and Egypt for their assistance. And I'll just note, it was actually the same channel that they created that led to the release of the first U.S. hostages last month of Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie. It was actually their release that American officials told us gave them the confidence that the channel worked but also that the Qataris could deliver.

MARTIN: Do you - would you just briefly remind us about the contours of the deal for people who perhaps have not been following it?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, yeah. Hamas is expected to release as many as 50 women and children. And in the agreement, you noted that there was a 3-year-old toddler from the United States - American. There were also two other Americans who are expected to be part of the group. And the deal also involves the exchange of some 150 Palestinian prisoners and a four-day pause in the fighting to allow this to happen and get more aid into Gaza.

MARTIN: And, you know, obviously, the condition - the well-being of the hostages is paramount here. But it has to be said, Biden has been dealing with a lot of domestic pressure about his handling of the war. Do you have a sense of whether this might relieve some of that pressure?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. It's a tough one. I mean, the pressure has been really intense. You know, a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 55% of Americans said they disapprove of Biden's handling of the war, and a great deal of that pressure was from Democrats, especially young people in the party. So I guess we'll see and, you know, it's early, and the deal has yet to go into effect.

MARTIN: Fair to say that the administration is aware of these kinds of numbers?

ORDOÑEZ: For sure. I mean, and we've seen the president kind of adjusting his message as conditions in Gaza worsen. You know, he's talking more about the need to protect Palestinians. He's been calling more aggressively for a pause in the fighting. And look, this deal does that, so that could also be - relieve some of that pressure. The administration emphasizes that it's not only, you know, to release the hostages and to stop the fighting for several days, but it will also allow hundreds more aid trucks into Gaza. But I will also note that, you know, Israel is very adamant that this is not going to stop the war. The government of Israel says they've made clear that the fighting will resume, and they say they will continue - or the fighting will continue until the rest of the hostages are home and that Hamas is eliminated.

MARTIN: That is White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Michel. 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.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.