US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Friday that President Donald Trump personally wrote to Syria’s President Bashar Assad about the case of journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing in war-ravaged Syria since 2012.
“President Trump wrote to Bashar Assad in March to propose direct dialogue,” Pompeo said in a statement released on the eighth anniversary of Tice's disappearance.
He said the US government has repeatedly attempted to engage Syrian officials to seek Austin’s release.
“No one should doubt the President’s commitment to bringing home all US citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas. Nowhere is that determination stronger than in Austin Tice’s case,” the Secretary said.
The statement noted that on August 14, 2012, three days after his 31st birthday, Tice disappeared in Damascus, Syria.
“Soon he will mark his 3,000th day in captivity,” it said.
However, Pompeo did not reveal whether Damascus responded to Trump’s letter.
Former national security adviser John Bolton wrote in his new book, "The Room Where It Happened", about Trump’s efforts to reach out to Assad on the issue of US hostages in the country.
“All these negotiations about our role in Syria were complicated by Trump’s constant desire to call Assad on US hostages, which Pompeo and I thought undesirable. Fortunately, Syria saved Trump from himself, refusing even to talk to Pompeo about them,” Bolton wrote.
He said that “When we reported this, Trump responded angrily: ‘You tell [them] he will get hit hard if they don’t give us our hostages back.”
On June 23, Syria rejected one of the stories published in Bolton’s book about the US' attempts to begin negotiations with Syria, the official SANA news agency reported, citing an official source in the country's Foreign Ministry.
On the same day, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during a press conference confirmed the veracity of one of the articles mentioned in Bolton's book on a decision of the Syrian authorities to not hold talks with the US over the release of its prisoners.
Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS, and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.
Thirty-one years old at the time he was captured, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later.
Since then, there has been no official information on whether he is alive or dead.