The Syrian government denied on Wednesday that it is holding Austin Tice, an American who went missing in Syria in 2012 while working as a freelance journalist.
Damascus was responding to a statement President Biden issued last week, where he said the US knows “with certainty” that the Syrian government has Tice. Syria has always maintained that it does not have Tice detained.
“The US issued last week misleading and illogical statements by the American president and secretary of state that included baseless accusations against Syria that it had kidnapped or detained American citizens, including former US Marine Austin Tice,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Syrian government also denied reports that it has been holding secret back channel talks with the US about Tice. The Foreign Ministry said that “any official dialogue with the American government will only be public based on the respect of Syria’s sovereignty.”
President Biden hosted Tice’s parents at the White House back in May and told them he directed his team to secure a meeting with top Syrian officials. Tice’s parents have been calling for the Biden administration to hold direct talks with Syria, but there has been no known progress since the May meeting.
“We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home” Biden said last Wednesday.
During previous negotiations in 2020 between Syria and the Trump administration, Damascus demanded that the US withdraw all of its troops from Syria, lift sanctions on the country, and normalize relations to start a discussion on US interests.
Tice went missing shortly after his 31st birthday in 2012 at a checkpoint in a contested area west of Damascus. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men.
He has not been heard from since. https://t.co/pjxJtVy0HC
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 17, 2022
But the Biden administration has shown no sign that it will change its Syria policy anytime soon. Officially, the administration is pursuing a policy of regime change by conditioning sanctions relief on a “political settlement” that sees President Bashar al-Assad removed from power.