Mother of missing journalist says Pompeo is undermining his release

Freelance journalist and former US Marine officer Austin Tice disappeared while reporting in Syria in 2012

Marc (L) and Debra Tice, parents of US journalist Austin Tice who was kidnapped in Syria five years prior, hold respective dated portraits of him during a press conference in the Lebanese capital Beirut on July 20, 2017. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

On Monday, the mother of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist and former US Marine officer who disappeared while reporting in Syria in 2012, accused US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of undermining efforts to free her son.

“In essence, there is nothing he is willing to do to bring my son home,” Debra Tice said in a statement released ahead of the November 3 US election.

“Unfortunately for Austin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is undermining the President’s crucial outreach, refusing any form of direct diplomatic engagement with the Syrian government,” she said. “President Trump is committed to seeing Austin walk free, whereas Secretary Pompeo is willing to accept his continued detention.”

Mr Trump has taken a personal interest in securing Mr Tice’s freedom, discussing his case at a press conference in March and issuing a statement on the eighth anniversary of his disappearance.

A Trump administration official on October 18 confirmed a newspaper report that a White House official visited Damascus this year for secret meetings with the Syrian government seeking the release of Mr Tice and another US citizen.

When asked on October 21 about the report, Pompeo said: “We’ll continue to work for the return not only of Austin, but of every American that’s held. We’re not going to change American policy to do that.”

“As the President said clearly, we don’t pay for the return of hostages,” Mr Pompeo added, repeating long-standing US policy.

There are several hundred American forces on the ground to help protect oilfields in the Kurdish-held north-eastern part of the country and prevent ISIS from regaining a foothold in Syria.

Talks with the Assad regime have not progressed as hoped, according to people briefed on the negotiations, as the regime is demanding the US withdraw all its forces from Syria.

Debra Tice reasserted that Mr Trump “can and should insist upon continuing the dialogue with the Syrian government.”