The mother of Austin Tice, the American student and journalist who was abducted by the Syrian regime almost a decade ago, has accused the White House of being a "hurdle" in the way of her son's release.
Debra Tice, who has been in the capital Washington over the past five weeks to hold meetings with US officials, admitted in a press conference on Thursday at the National Press Club that "the hurdle I'm having is the White House."
Despite her meetings with officials reportedly being productive, no real progress has been made as she was not yet able to meet President Joe Biden or his national security adviser Jake Sullivan to discuss Austin's release. "The things we're discussing have to go up the chain, otherwise we really are just having tea and crumpets," she said.
She is also not the only one who the upper echelons of the Biden administration have ignored, with an open letter published in October expressing the frustration of Debra and over two dozen other families of hostages and detained Americans at continuously being denied meetings at the White House.
Tice – a former Marine captain and a student at Georgetown University – travelled to Syria in May 2012 to cover the ongoing conflict as a freelance journalist for various outlets. After his taxi was stopped at a checkpoint in a suburb of Damascus in August that year, he was disappeared by regime forces. Apart from a short video clip showing him blindfolded five weeks later, he has not been seen or heard of ever since.
Over the years, the US has demanded his release, but serious efforts were made when officials from former president Donald Trump's administration visited Damascus to negotiate for Tice's release last year.
The regime's demands communicated by Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk, however, included the full withdrawal of US forces from Syria, the lifting of sanctions, and the restoration of diplomatic ties. Washington refused Damascus's demands, insisting that it would not change its foreign policy to win the release of Americans.
Debra Tice is now urging the government to again attempt to secure Tice's freedom, especially after Lebanon's top security chief Abbas Ibrahim helped to negotiate the release of another American – tourist Sam Goodwin – who was detained by the Assad regime for two months.
"You can't drop this ball," Debra stressed. "Doors are opening a bit, and we need to shove those doors open and pull Austin out." She urged the Biden administration to press on with the campaign to free her son, saying that "he is an American citizen that needs his government to step in and do what they know is necessary to bring him home."
Following Debra's comments, a top White House aide – reported to be Jake Sullivan – met with her yesterday and pledged to boost its efforts for Austin's release.