The Biden administration will continue to engage directly with the Syrian government to locate and return Austin Tice, a journalist missing for a decade in Syria, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday.
Blinken was speaking at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., commemorating 10 years since Tice, a freelance correspondent who reported for McClatchy, The Washington Post and other media outlets, disappeared on Aug. 14, 2012.
“There’s nothing that I can say that will take away the pain of 10 years of waiting, but I want you to know that the U.S. government is unwavering in our commitment to bring Austin home,” Blinken said in a video message.
Blinken said that Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens “will continue to engage with the Syrian government, in close cooperation with the White House.”
“This is a priority for us,” Blinken said.
Three presidents have failed to locate Tice or bring him home, but President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the United States knows “with certainty” that the Syrian government has held him at some point in the past decade.
The Syrian government continues to deny any knowledge of Tice’s whereabouts or condition. But U.S. and Syrian officials have restarted direct talks on Tice in recent weeks, spurring hope in the Biden administration that a serious negotiation is possible.
Tice’s parents, Debra and Marc Tice, were in attendance at the Washington event.
“Today, Austin has to grapple with the terrible realization of losing 10 years of his life. For me, it is the most painful of the 3,653 days that my firstborn has been held in secret,” Debra Tice said. “Despite the crushing weight of this day, my heart is still full with hope.”
Debra Tice held meetings in Washington throughout the week with government officials.
“I cautiously believe that things are moving in the right direction,” she said. “If the people I met with are sincere and genuinely engage with their best effort and determination, I believe we will soon see Austin walk free and bring this long journey to an end.”
“The government is making better efforts than they were before,” she added. “There is a strategy.”
Tice was last seen at a checkpoint southwest of the Syrian capital of Damascus. A video purportedly showing him alive and held captive by an unspecified group emerged six weeks later.
He had traveled to Syria that summer as a freelance journalist. A Texas native and former U.S. Marine, Tice was planning to return that fall for his final year at Georgetown Law School.
McClatchy CEO Tony Hunter, who attended Sunday’s event, urged the Biden administration to do more to secure Tice’s return.
“We shouldn’t be here — not after 10 years of waiting for Austin Tice to be released,” Hunter said.
“The plain truth is this: the current administration can do more. So we call on the administration to stop talking and do more,” he added. “Words do not amount to action. We need to see movement and results.”
Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post, also called on the White House to increase its efforts to secure Tice’s release.
“Ten years of imprisonment is difficult to comprehend,” Ryan said. “The United States should not stand by when Americans are held hostage. We cannot continue to let Austin languish in Syria. The Biden administration must increase the efforts to secure Austin’s release.”
© 2022 McClatchy Washington Bureau Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC