Biden administration believes US journalist Austin Tice is still alive
The Biden administration is acting with the belief that Austin Tice, an American journalist who went missing in Syria in 2012, is still alive, the State Department has said.
Tice, a former US marine, was a freelance photojournalist working for AFP, the Washington Post, CBS and other news organisations when he disappeared on 14 August 2012 after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus.
"We operate under the sincere belief that Austin Tice is alive," a State Department official told Middle East Eye on Thursday.
US officials told McClatchy's Washington Bureau on Wednesday that a team of hostage recovery experts is working daily to free the American journalist, with former Trump official Roger Carstens serving as the diplomatic lead.
The Biden administration, like its predecessor the Donald Trump administration, has pledged to make hostage recovery a priority.
In a statement last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington "reaffirms the US commitment to secure the freedom of every US citizen unjustly imprisoned abroad".
A report by the Associated Press revealed details of a meeting that took place last summer between Trump officials and the Syrian government in Damascus, where the US planned to negotiate the return of multiple American citizens, including Tice.
The trip was unsuccessful after Syrian officials demanded the lifting of sanctions, a return to diplomatic ties, and a withdrawal of troops - while sharing no information on the whereabouts of the journalist and others.
Still, the US has remained committed to securing the return of Tice and other Americans in Syria. Carstens, who attended last summer's meeting in Damascus, told the AP, "My job ... is to get Austin Tice back".
The news agency also reported that during attempts to build goodwill with the Syrian government, an unidentified ally of Washington offered Assad assistance with cancer treatment for his wife Asma.
Syria erupted into civil war almost a decade ago after Assad began a brutal crackdown in 2011 on protesters calling for an end to his family's rule.
At least 137 journalists have been killed while covering the conflict, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog.