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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.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. braces for Russian escalation as talks hit “dead end”

OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew Rau said Thursday "the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever." Photo: Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The crisis over Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine entered a dangerous and unpredictable new phase in both Vienna and Washington on Thursday.

Driving the news: Russian diplomats said this week's round of security talks from Geneva and Brussels to Vienna have resulted in a "dead end," and it's time for them to return to Moscow to brief President Vladimir Putin on the "very disappointing" state of affairs before deciding the path forward.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker