WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden met Monday with the parents of American journalist Austin Tice, who was abducted in Syria nearly 10 years ago, the White House said.
“During their meeting, the President reiterated his commitment to continue to work through all available avenues to secure Austin’s long overdue return to his family,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement summarizing the meeting with Marc and Debra Tice.
She described the encounter as an outgrowth of “multiple meetings and conversations” between the Tice family and White House national security officials.
Debra Tice was introduced Saturday night as being in attendance at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, where Biden paid tribute in his remarks to journalists who are missing or detained. Biden also said at the event that he wanted to meet with the Tices to speak about their son.
“After the president made those comments, obviously we went into action to work to set up the meeting,” Psaki said Monday, adding that the White House has “been very closely engaged with the family.”
Tice, who is from Houston and whose work had been published by The Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other outlets, disappeared in August 2012 at a checkpoint in a contested area west of Damascus.
A video released weeks later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men and saying, “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since. Syria has never acknowledged holding him.
In the final months of the Trump administration, two U.S. officials — including the government's top hostage negotiator, Roger Carstens — made a secret visit to Damascus to seek information on Tice and other Americans who have disappeared in Syria. It was the highest-level talk in years between the U.S. and the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, though Syrian officials offered no meaningful information on Tice.
Psaki told reporters earlier in the day that there had been multiple meetings between members of the Tice family and administration officials in the last six months, including one last week.
Debra Tice had previously been critical of her lack of direct White House access, saying at a National Press Club event last December that she had not been able to get a meeting with Biden since he became president and that he had never said Austin's name publicly.
“The hurdle I'm having is the White House,” she said then, adding, “I wonder if he's allowed himself to forget about Austin. I don't have any indication otherwise.”
Last week, the U.S. secured the release of Trevor Reed, a U.S. Marine veteran detained in Russia for nearly three years, as part of a prisoner swap. Relatives of Reed and other detained Americans are holding a news conference near the White House on Wednesday to advocate for their loved ones' release.
Associated Press writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.