WASHINGTON, Oct 27 (Reuters) - The Trump administration defended Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday against criticism from the mother of Austin Tice, a U.S. journalist who disappeared in Syria eight years ago, that the chief U.S. diplomat was undermining efforts to free her son.
In comments released by the State Department, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Roger Carstens, the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, said Pompeo was committed to bringing home Americans detained abroad.
Debra Tice, mother of the freelance journalist and former Marine officer who went missing while reporting in Syria, issued a statement on Monday saying recent Pompeo comments suggested “there is nothing he is willing to do to bring my son home”.
While saying he has “a lot of respect for Mrs. Tice,” Carstens said: “I disagree respectfully with her conclusion.
“Contrary to what Mrs. Tice has written and stated, Secretary Pompeo has been unwavering in his efforts to bring Austin Tice home.”
Carstens said it was under Pompeo’s “leadership” that he was authorized to contact unidentified Syrians last summer to discuss a face-to-face meeting to seek Syria’s help in finding and freeing Tice, another U.S. citizen, Madj Kamalmaz, and unnamed others.
He said Pompeo ordered him and NSC official Kash Patel to visit Syria for what he described as the first direct U.S.-Syrian diplomatic engagement in a decade.
“Pompeo has remained intensely engaged on the results of this trip. That is why I read, with concern, Mrs. Tice’s statement accusing the Secretary as being an ‘obstacle’ to obtaining Austin’s release,” he added, saying Pompeo “drove” the recent trip to Damascus as well as continuing recovery efforts.
O’Brien, who previously held Carstens’ post, also defended Pompeo. In comments that did not specifically name Tice, O’Brien said “Pompeo has played a critical role in this Administration’s unprecedented success at bringing our citizens home.” (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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