When the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria set terms for the release of a Jordanian fighter pilot captured when his plane was disabled over Syria, it was only marginally shocking that Jordan signaled it was willing to negotiate with ISIS fighters. That decision had some shock value not only because it is generally rare to see Western coalition partners negotiate with groups they admit to be terrorist organizations, but because the prisoner ISIS demanded in exchange was involved in one of the worst terrorist attacks in that country’s history.
No sooner had bilateral negotiations between the Hashemite Kingdom and ISIS begun that they apparently failed. This week, it was revealed that both that government and Japan were jointly negotiating for the release of the captured Jordanian pilot and one of two surviving Japanese citizens also being held for ransom by ISIS. However, the Jordanian government disclosed in a statement on Thursday has yet to receive proof that their country’s citizen is still alive. Without proof of life, Jordan indicated that it is prepared to walk away from the negotiating table.
“For days, Jordanian officials have said they’re willing to swap al-Rishawi for al-Kassasbeh,” CNN reported. “Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani reiterated as much late Thursday afternoon, about an hour before the purported deadline. But he also said Jordan is not about to pull off a deal yet, having received no proof that its pilot is still alive.”
Meanwhile, a report in the Jordan-based outlet Al Bawaba noted that Jordanian officials are no longer suggesting that they are negotiating on behalf of Japan.
Meanwhile, Japanese journalist Goto has all but disappeared from the mouths of Jordanian officials. Kasasbeh’s father said Wednesday the government should focus on securing his son’s release, adding that [captured Japanese journalist Kenji] Goto “has his country to defend him.”
Also on Wednesday, Momani announced Jordan was ready to trade Rishawi if the pilot was “released unharmed.” No mention was made about Goto.
ISIS originally set a deadline for the conclusion of negotiations on Wednesday but it was extended to sunset on Thursday. That deadline has come and gone, and no proof of life was provided to Jordanian officials. “There was no official statement from the Jordanian government that Ms. Rishawi was still in the country, but officials repeated their position that they required proof that Lieutenant [Moaz al] Kasasbeh was still alive,” The New York Times reported.
If ISIS cannot provide any proof of life for their missing pilot, it is entirely possible that none exists. It will be interesting to see how that eventually would impact the low-intensity campaign that Jordan is waging against ISIS over Syria.