Foundation for hostages pulls prize for Pompeo

A foundation that fights on behalf of US hostages has reversed its decision to present an award to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN)

Washington (AFP) - A US foundation that fights for hostages has reversed plans to present an award to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo due to his response to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pompeo called the about-face by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation -- named in memory of the journalist killed in Syria -- "unfortunate" and said that media organizations as well as the moderator did not want to be associated with President Donald Trump's administration.

"I regret that there was pressure applied by the media for that award to be withdrawn," Pompeo told Fox News in an interview Friday.

"I think some of the folks who were underwriting the dinner didn't want to be part of it," he said.

"Award or no award, we're going to keep working at this problem," he said of freeing US hostages abroad.

Foley, a freelance journalist, was captured in Syria in 2012 and beheaded by the Islamic State group in August 2014, with video footage of his killing sparking outrage around the world.

The Foley Foundation said in a statement that it decided not to present the award to Pompeo "due to the dramatic change in circumstances when the administration did not press for genuine accountability from the Saudi government for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi."

"In addition to advocating for the safe return of American hostages abroad, the protection of free speech and promotion of journalists' safety is a key pillar of our foundation and this award would have been in conflict with that key principle," it said.

It thanked Pompeo for his "extraordinary efforts" on freeing US hostages, including a meeting with families Tuesday at the State Department.

Khashoggi, who wrote critical pieces about the Saudi leadership for The Washington Post, was strangled to death and dismembered when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, according to Turkish and US officials.

In response, the United States revoked the visas of nearly two dozen Saudi officials. But the administration has preserved its warm relationship with the kingdom, with Trump prioritizing arms sales to Saudi Arabia over holding its leadership accountable for the killing.

The Foley Foundation instead presented the award to Brett McGurk, who as a US diplomat negotiated the release of Americans from Iranian prison including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.

McGurk in December resigned as the US coordinator of the coalition against the Islamic State group after Trump ordered a withdrawal of troops from Syria.