The Trump administration has been trying to get another US hostage home: Austin Tice. The New York Times reports that clandestine talks between CIA director Mike Pompeo and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk began in February to initiate the release of the American journalist and former Marine, who went missing in 2012 and is believed to have been detained in Syria for the past five years. The communications, which the Times calls the “highest level contact” between the governments in years, ended following Syria’s chemical weapon attack against rebels in April. President Trump responded to the attack by ordering a strike on the air base that issued it.
“That’s a big deal,” says Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy of the Syrian attack, which killed dozens of civilians. “There is no way the US is going to ignore these actions.” According to RT, Tice was freelancing in Syria for news outlets including the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, and CBS when he went missing in August 2012, and a video of Tice, blindfolded and being led by gunmen, appeared on YouTube a month later. The Times reports that secret intelligence analysis suggests that Tice is still alive and was treated for dehydration last year in a Damascus hospital, but Syrian officials deny knowledge of his whereabouts. Tabler says the timing to continue negotiations just isn’t there. “That’s just a hard reality.”