US says Syria’s Assad has the power to free long-captive journalist

On his 40th birthday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken re-ups commitment to free Austin Tice

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 04, 2018, Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of US journalist Austin Tice (portrait L), who was abducted in Syria more than six years ago, speak at a press conference in Beirut. 
US President Donald Trump personally wrote to his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad about the case of journalist Tice, who has been missing since 2012, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on August 14, 2020.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to free American journalist and former US Marine Austin Tice.

Mr Tice went missing in 2012 at a checkpoint near Damascus. Five weeks later, a video was released showing him being held by unidentified armed men.

“He turns 40 years old today, having spent almost a quarter of his life in captivity,” Mr Blinken said in a statement. “I am personally committed to bringing home all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.”

Mr Tice had been working as a freelancer for McClatchy when he went missing. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, a Trump administration carryover, continues his efforts, Mr Blinken said.

The US embassy in Damascus suspended its operations in February 2012 and is represented there via the Czech Republic's embassy.

Biden administration officials have told McClatchy that they are operating “with the sincere belief” that Mr Tice is alive.

“We are committed to following all avenues and talking to anyone who can help with Austin’s release and return home,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

“We don’t speak about those publicly, because that’s not in the interests of the outcome. But we are committed to using every tool at our disposal to bring Austin and all hostages held in Syria home.”

The Tice family marked the occasion by expressing their continued grief and by criticising the Biden administration, even though two previous presidents have also failed to securing his release.

“It is a piercing sense of loss to consider that Austin has spent almost all of his 30's deprived of his liberty and the pursuit of his dreams,” the statement read. “We are also intensely frustrated by the irresolute, on-again-off-again involvement of our government and its insufficient resolve to secure Austin's release.”

In a White House press conference in March 2020, then-president Donald Trump said, "If you think about what we've done, we've gotten rid of the ISIS caliphate in Syria. We've done a lot for Syria. ... It would be very much appreciated if they would let Austin Tice out immediately."

Updated: August 11, 2021, 9:53 PM