Vernon A. Walters, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was sent to Syria in an effort to gain the release of the Rev. Benjamin Weir and other American hostages in Lebanon, U.S. officials said today.
Earlier, NBC News said Walters met in secret for four hours with Syrian President Hafez Assad.
The officials who confirmed that Walters had been dispatched to Syria spoke only on condition of anonymity. They would not elaborate.
Weir, who was held by Shia captors for 16 months, was released on Sept. 14.
The NBC report on Monday, which cited no sources, did not state when Walters met with Assad.
Irene Payne, a press spokeswoman at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, had no comment on the report and said Walters would go no further than he had at his news conference last Thursday, when he explained why he was not at the Sept. 17 opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
Walters said then that he was on a mission for his government, but he refused to elaborate. The U.N. Mission had said at the time that Walters wasn’t there because he was out of the country.
The Washington Post reported today that the Shia captors of the six Americans still held in Lebanon may release them if Kuwait agrees to free the two Lebanese Shias who are among 17 convicted terrorists imprisoned there.
The newspaper quoted a highly placed Arab diplomatic source as saying that there have been indications of such a compromise from the Shia captors, who previously have demanded that all 17 terrorists be freed.