The U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon discussed the issue of Western hostages with President Elias Hrawi Monday and called for them to be freed unconditionally.

Asked about speculation a hostage release was imminent, Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters: "This . . . is an issue of extreme concern to the government and people of the United States. It is one that I am personally committed to doing anything I can to bring to resolution."There has been a lot of talk and speculation in the press and I can't tell you what if anything is behind it. But what I can tell you is that the time has long since passed for the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages."

Asked whether there were any solid reports of an American or European hostage coming out, Crocker declined to comment.

The victory of U.S.-led allied forces in the Gulf War and improved relations between the West and Iran and Syria have increased hopes the Western hostages would soon be released.