▶ Watch Video: Austin Tice’s mother says assurances about efforts to bring him home have “lost their strength”

Washington — Debra Tice woke up startled one morning last month and grabbed her phone. 

“My mother’s intuition woke me up incredibly early,” she recalled Tuesday at an event at the National Press Club in Washington.

She opened her phone to find a roughly translated story originally by a Lebanese news outlet that appeared on a Syrian website. The report claimed that U.S. officials and representatives of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime had held meetings in Oman, and that the talks included discussion of her son, Austin Tice, who disappeared in Syria nearly 11 years ago. 

“It was very significant to me. Do we have movement? The president gave the directive May 2, 2022,” she said, referring to a meeting she had with President Biden at the White House, where he directed his staff to secure a meeting with the Syrians and find out what they wanted in exchange for her son.

“Here are my empty arms,” she said. “So you can see how effective all this effort has been.” 

Tice, a freelance journalist who had worked with several news organizations including CBS News, The Washington Post and McClatchy, was kidnapped near Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012, while he was reporting on the Syrian civil war.

A short video that appeared weeks later on YouTube and Facebook showed a distressed Tice blindfolded with his apparent captors. It was the last time he was seen. 

Freelance journalist Austin Tice went missing in Syria in 2012 and has not been heard from since. 

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

No one has ever claimed responsibility for his disappearance. In a statement marking 10 years since he disappeared, Mr. Biden said the U.S. knows “with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian regime.” He called on Syria to come to the table and negotiate. 

But Debra Tice said Tuesday she believes it’s the U.S. who is not ready to negotiate, saying the State Department is “exceedingly, profoundly anti-Syria, anti-engagement with Syria.” In past interviews she has accused U.S. officials of dragging their feet. 

“I think it’s time to let a lot of concerns go,” she said. “Getting Austin home does not have to change our foreign policy. We can engage with Syria. We can have a discussion. We can negotiate and we can bring Austin home without changing our foreign policy.” 

She continued: “We got Brittney Griner home without changing Russian foreign policy. The Venezuelans. We get people home without changing foreign policy.” 

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said the U.S. is “engaging extensively to try and get Austin home.”

“We have and will continue to pursue every channel we can to seek his safe return to his family and we will continue to do so,” he said. “And that means discussing this case with a number of countries in the region, and we’re going to continue to keep working until he returns.”

Mr. Biden acknowledged Austin Tice at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday and said the U.S. is continuing its efforts to find him and secure his release. Debra, who was at the dinner, said she’s received repeated assurances that the U.S. is working on his case, but she and her family lose their strength with her son still in captivity. 

“It’s hard for me to think about what progress is because there’s really only one measure for me,” Debra Tice said. “Empty arms. Full arms.”