President Barack Obama announced several changes to U.S. hostage policy on Wednesday, including that the government will no longer threaten to criminally prosecute families who pay terrorists for the release of loved ones.
Obama also said that the government itself will also begin communicating and negotiating directly with terrorist groups holding Americans hostage abroad, but will stick to its "no concessions" policy, according to CNN.
"The United States government will not make concessions, such as paying ransoms, to terrorist groups holding American hostages," he said, adding that paying ransoms could put more Americans in danger, reported McClatchy.
The presidential directive and executive order were announced after an emotional meeting between Obama and the families of former and current captives.
"The families have told us and told me directly about their frequent frustrations in dealing with their own government," the president said on Wednesday adding, "That's totally unacceptable," reported NBC News.
The changes also include the creation of an interagency "fusion cell" to speed up efforts to free American captives and to improve communication between the government and families of hostages. It will include officials from the FBI, the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA.
"The bottom line is this: When it comes to how our government works to recover hostage, we are changing how we do business," he said. "There have been times our government, regardless of good intentions, has let them down."
"We must do better," he said. "These families have suffered enough. They should never feel ignored ... by their own government."
Obama's directive does reiterate the U.S. policy to "deny hostage-takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession," but says that "this policy does not preclude engaging in communications with hostage-takers," according to CNN.
The policy changes, which Obama said he considered through the lens of a husband and father rather than just as a president, "are a direct result" of the families' feedback.
"If my family were at risk obviously I would move heaven and Earth to get those loved ones back," he said, adding, "I'm making it clear that our top priority is the safe and rapid recovery of American hostages."
Though it's illegal for families to pay terrorists ransom money for the release of loved ones was, the administration sometimes looked the other way. Nonetheless, some families said they were threatened with prosecution while they were considering making the payments, according to McClatchy.