James O'Brien

Photo of James O'Brien
Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs
Term of Appointment: 08/2015 to present

James O'Brien is the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. He supports hostage recovery efforts by maintaining close communication with families of American hostages, participating in negotiations, and representing the United States on hostage related issues.

Mr. O’Brien has previously served with the State Department, beginning with his position as attorney-advisor in 1989. Later, he served as Special Presidential Envoy for the Balkans, with responsibility for U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security policy in the area. In addition, Mr. O’Brien acted as Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning and as a senior adviser to UN Ambassador and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. From these positions, he helped to formulate the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia; and guided U.S. support for the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which helped bring to justice persons responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Further, he finalized agreements to control weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. Mr. O’Brien also negotiated agreements protecting intellectual property rights for scientific cooperation with China; promoted environmentally sound international trade regulations for hazardous and recyclable materials; and worked to make public-private partnerships and corporate social responsibility a central element in American foreign policy.

Mr. O'Brien earned a B.A. from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, a Master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and a J.D. from Yale Law School.