The Syrian government recently denied it is holding missing American journalist Austin Tice, who was abducted in Damascus while covering the lengthy conflict in Syria a decade ago.
Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in a statement on Wednesday that Damascus had not kidnapped and is not holding any American citizens on Syrian soil. This was the first time the Syrian government has denied holding Austin Tice since his disappearance in 2012.
“The U.S. President issued last week a misleading statement that included baseless accusations against Syria that it had kidnapped American citizens including former U.S. Marine Austin Tice,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry stated.
Syria emphasized that any official dialogue or communication with the United States government would be public and “based on the rule of respecting the sovereignty and independence and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the statement said.
The Syrian government remarks came one week after U.S. President Joe Biden’s statement marking the 10th anniversary of Tice’s abduction, in which the White House insisted that Tice had been arrested by the Syrian government.
“We know with certainty that Tice Austin has been held by the government of Syria, and we have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home,” Biden said in a statement last week.
After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Tice traveled to the Middle East as a journalist to cover the war in Syria from its onset.
A few days after his 31st birthday, on Aug. 14, 2012, Tice was abducted at a checkpoint in West Damascus, Syria’s capital, an area that was under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control at the time.
In September 2013, a disturbing video released by Assad regime supporters showed Tice blindfolded and held by an armed group, saying, “Oh, Jesus.” U.S. officials suggested that the video might have been staged by the Syrian government to look like Tice was abducted by a jihadist group.
Middle East Institute’s senior policy analyst, Karam Shaar, told ALL ARAB NEWS that Assad’s denial of detaining Tice is an attempt to squeeze out concessions from the U.S. and not to release him.
“The recent remarks by the Syrian government is a telling that the Assad regime is a master of deception because the evidence indicates that Tice was held by the Assad regime, and the video released days after his arrest was a fake one,” Shaar said.
“One more reason to believe that Tice is with the Assad regime is that even after the release, the Syrian foreign affairs ministry hinted at its conditions to release Austin Tice,” Shaar said.
In early May, Biden met with Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra, and promised to work on securing his release.
“A very obvious step that needs to be taken is for somebody in the United States government to reach out directly to somebody in the Syrian government and request the meeting,” Marc Tice said in an NBC News interview on Aug. 1, almost three months later.
“Mr. President, you need to know that no action has been taken on your clear directive,” said Debra Tice, sitting beside her husband.
Statements by former U.S. presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama have not resulted in Tice’s freedom.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington “will continue to pursue all available avenues to bring Austin home and work tirelessly until we succeed in doing so.”
In 2020, under the Trump administration, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens secretly traveled to Damascus and Lebanon to discuss U.S. citizens who were missing or detained in the region.
A few days after Carstens’ trip to the Middle East, two Americans were released – Sam Goodwin from Syria and Nizar Zikka from Iran.
MENA policy analyst Alexander Langlois told ALL ARAB NEWS that the Assad regime wants the Biden administration to withdraw the U.S. troops from Syria in exchange for Tice’s release, a clear non-starter for the U.S.