Dec 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Austin Tice's mom gets White House meeting

Austin Tice's parents next to "Free Austin Tice" sign

Austin Tice's parents at a press conference in Beirut in 2018. Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images

The mother of Austin Tice, an American journalist abducted in Syria in 2012, will meet Friday with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to discuss a proposal she believes could bring her son home, two people familiar with the plans tell Axios.

Why it matters: As the Arab world slowly reintegrates Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad after a decade-long civil war, Debra Tice believes now is the best opportunity in years to secure her son's release. The U.S. government operates under the assumption he’s still alive.

What they're saying: "I'm at the point in this journey where this isn't going to be me showing pictures of my sweet boy," she told Axios in an interview Thursday after appearing at a press freedom event at the National Press Club. "The things we're discussing have to go up the chain."

  • At the event, she disclosed that she was seeking a meeting with Sullivan but declined to discuss details of her outreach.
  • While she praised those in the State Department, FBI and Congress who've supported her over the years, she generally described national security advisers in the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations as obstacles to bringing her son home.
  • Tice told Axios that national security advisers are so important because "they're the ones who have to sign off any proposal presented to the president, and they're the ones who have to promote the idea to the president."
  • A White House spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

Driving the news: As Axios first reported, Sullivan held a Zoom call last Friday with dozens of hostage families after many — including Tice and her husband — expressed frustration they'd not yet been granted a meeting with him or President Biden.

  • Sullivan told families he was unaware they had sought meetings with him, and pledged to make himself available to all who wished to discuss their cases.
  • His overture "made the whole hour worthwhile for me," Tice told Axios. "As soon as the Zoom call ended, I sent an email: 'Lovely. I'll be in town Monday.'"

Flashback: Two Trump administration officials flew to Damascus in September 2020 to secretly meet with the Assad regime, which the U.S. has not formally recognized since 2012.

  • The Syrians — without providing proof Austin Tice was still alive — demanded three conditions for his release, the AP reported earlier this year: Lift sanctions on the regime, withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and restore diplomatic ties.
  • Debra Tice says she believes the specifics of those demands were miscommunicated to the White House, based on her conversations with Lebanese security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who has advocated for the release of U.S. hostages in Syria.
  • She and Ibrahim traveled to Washington in November 2020 to try to clarify that message to President Trump and his team, but the White House had descended into post-election chaos and they were unable to secure a meeting.
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