Mother of journalist Austin Tice met top Biden official

The mother of Austin Tice, an American journalist who went missing in Syria in 2012, met at the White House with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Friday after criticizing the Biden administration for being a “hurdle” to the release of her son.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the meeting between Debra Tice and Sullivan and said the administration was doing everything it could to free Tice. She declined to provide an update on his case.

“I can’t give you an assessment. Obviously we’re going to do everything we can,” Psaki said. “It’s our standard practice not to share any specific details about any potential meetings or specific cases out of respect for the families, and to preserve confidentiality.”

Tice, at a press conference on Thursday, said that her son’s case must “go up the chain” for there to be progress toward his release after nine years.

She noted that President Joe Biden “has never said Austin’s name publicly.”

“I wonder if he’s allowed himself to forget about Austin,” she told reporters. “I don’t have any indication otherwise.”

Officials from the Trump administration made a push for Tice’s release in 2020, meeting with Syrian officials to discuss potential terms for his release.

The United States does not recognize the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the Biden administration will not say whether it is willing to engage with it directly to secure Tice’s freedom. Psaki said last month that the administration’s view of Assad has not changed in light of several countries in the Middle East reestablishing diplomatic ties with Damascus.

While the Assad government has never acknowledged Tice’s capture, the Biden administration is working towards his release on the belief that he is alive.

Psaki declined to outline Biden’s involvement in Tice’s case, or in any other involving the detention of American citizens abroad.

“I’m not going to detail the president’s engagement, because it’s not advantageous to our objective of bringing people home,” Psaki said.

“What I can tell you is Austin Tice’s mother, and all of the families of Americans who are being held overseas, have been in touch with our national security team, have been in touch with Jake Sullivan and other senior officials in a range of departments — at the State Department, and others — multiple times, and we are absolutely committed to closely coordinating with them, to doing everything we can here in the United States government to bring their loved ones home,” Psaki said.

Tice, a Texas native and former officer of the United States Marine Corps, was a 31 year-old student at Georgetown Law School in 2012 when he traveled to Syria as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and other news organizations.

He was detained at a checkpoint in a suburb of Damascus. Five weeks later, a video was released showing him held by unidentified armed men.

No one has claimed responsibility for his disappearance.

Debra and Marc Tice, Austin’s father, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Michael Wilner is McClatchy’s Senior National Security and White House Correspondent. A member of the White House team since 2019, he led coverage of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. Wilner previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post. He holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.

Alex Roarty has written about the Democratic Party since joining McClatchy in 2017. He’s been a campaigns reporter in Washington since 2010, after covering politics and state government in Pennsylvania during former Gov. Ed Rendell’s second term.

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