President Joe Biden on Monday met with the parents of detained American journalist Austin Tice, less than a week after another American imprisoned abroad was returned to the United States through a prisoner swap with Russia.
Tice, a freelance journalist, was detained at a checkpoint near Damascus in August 2012 while reporting on the war in Syria. The Texas native and veteran of the US Marine Corps was a law student at Georgetown University.
The President “reiterated his commitment to continue to work through all available avenues to secure Austin’s long overdue return to his family,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement Monday.
Biden “further emphasized that his Administration will work relentlessly until Austin and other Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained worldwide are safely at home with their loved ones.”
The meeting with Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra Tice, comes after White House Correspondents’ Association President Steven Portnoy made a direct plea for the President to work for the journalist’s freedom.
At Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Portnoy said in front of cameras and some 2,600 guests, “Mr. President, at Table 48 tonight is a woman named Debra Tice,” asking Tice to stand and be recognized by the room.
“Mrs. Tice’s son, Austin, is a colleague of ours at The Washington Post, McClatchy and CBS, and he should be here with us tonight. But he’s been held captive in Syria since 2012. As we take note of Trevor Reed’s return, our thoughts tonight are with Austin Tice, and our collective hopes are that after nearly 10 years in captivity he will soon return home safely to his mother, his father, his colleagues and his friends,” Portnoy added.
The meeting, according to Psaki, “built on multiple meetings and conversations between the Tice family and the President’s national security team, which will remain in regular contact with the Tices and other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.”
“We appreciate the bravery and candor of families enduring these harrowing experiences, and we remain committed to supporting them and, most importantly, reuniting them with their loved ones,” the press secretary continued in her statement.
Earlier Monday, Psaki said that Biden’s meeting with the Tice family had come together quickly over the weekend, after the President expressed that he wanted to meet with them.
Psaki said that since a December meeting with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, White House National Security Council officials have met with the Tice family on three occasions, “including a meeting just last week.”
The White House, she said, has been “in close touch” with the family, but she did not offer any additional updates about Tice’s whereabouts.
Psaki also highlighted that the US government has “an entire apparatus and effort through the interagency to work in doing everything we can to engage with leaders, with countries – even some we certainly do not have diplomatic relations with – to bring Americans home.”
The US State Department would not say whether Biden’s meeting signifies that there’s an update in Tice’s case, but emphasized that his case is, and has been, a priority.
“The case of Austin Tice is one that has attracted, with good reason, the focus, the attention of the world. He is someone who traveled the world, including into Syria, to do nothing more than to spread reporting, to spread the truth,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “We’re doing everything we can to see that come to a successful conclusion.”
The State Department has regular contact with Tice’s parents, Price said.
American officials have expressed confidence that Tice is still alive and being held in Syria. But since his detention in 2012, his family says, the only information released by his captors has been a 43-second video titled “Austin Tice is Alive,” which showed him being held by armed men.
The Trump administration reportedly pushed hard to secure Tice’s release, including sending senior officials to Damascus.
In an open letter to the President last fall, Tice’s parents called on Biden to secure their son’s release.
“We believe this can happen with your personal engagement and direct orders. In these early days of your administration, you have clearly messaged that family is at the core of your agenda,” the Tice family wrote. “So we are asking you to express strong support, issue clear directions, and take meaningful action in a sincere effort to bring Austin safely home.”
Less than a week earlier, Trevor Reed, an American citizen and former Marine who had been detained in Russia since 2019, was returned to the US as part of a prisoner swap.
Reed had been sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 for endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers in an altercation. Reed and his family have denied the charges against him.
While the US government had been making an effort to have Reed returned to the US for months, his freedom ultimately came as part of a prisoner swap for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko.
Price said on Monday that Reed’s case shows that the US “can best and most effectively achieve potentially successful outcomes if we do have space to conduct private conversations.”
“When it comes to our efforts to free Americans, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Ambassador (Roger) Carstens – he will go anywhere, he will talk to anyone if it means that we’re able to come home with an American, to reunite that American with her or his family,” Price told reporters. “That is true in the case of Austin Tice. It is true in the case of Paul Whelan. It is true in the case of the Americans who are detained in Iran and Americans who are detained around the world.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.