The mother of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist and former U.S. Marine officer who disappeared while reporting in Syria in 2012, on Monday accused U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of undermining efforts to free her son.
In a statement released ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. election, Debra Tice appeared to be trying to play Pompeo off against U.S. President Donald Trump, who has stressed his desire to bring home Tice and other U.S. citizens detained abroad.
“Unfortunately for Austin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is undermining the President’s crucial outreach, refusing any form of direct diplomatic engagement with the Syrian government,” she said. “President Trump is committed to seeing Austin walk free, whereas Secretary Pompeo is willing to accept his continued detention.”
A Trump Administration official on Oct. 18 confirmed a newspaper report that a White House official visited Damascus this year for secret meetings with the Syrian government seeking the release of Tice and another U.S. citizen.
Asked on Oct. 21 about the report and whether Washington was ready to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria to secure their release, Pompeo said: “We’ll continue to work for the return not only of Austin, but of every American that’s held. We’re not going to change American policy to do that.”
“As the President said clearly, we don’t pay for the return of hostages,” Pompeo added, repeating long-standing U.S. policy.
About 600 U.S forces remain in northeastern Syria after a sharp reduction in troops that were initially there to drive Islamic State militants from their strongholds in the country.
Tice’s mother characterized Pompeo’s stance as “in essence, there is nothing he is willing to do to bring my son home.”
She also said Trump “can and should insist upon continuing the dialogue with the Syrian government.”
The State Department and White House national security council did not immediately respond to requests for comment.