Trump wrote to Assad about journalist missing in Syria: Pompeo

© Agence France-Presse

US journalist Austin Tice (L) has been missing in Syria for eight years -- at right, his parents Debra and Marc Tice, seen in Beirut in Decemeber 2018

Washington (AFP) - US President Donald Trump personally wrote to Bashar al-Assad about the case of journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing in war-ravaged Syria since 2012, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

"The US government has repeatedly attempted to engage Syrian officials to seek Austin's release," Pompeo said in a statement on the eighth anniversary of Tice's disappearance.

"President Trump wrote to Bashar al-Assad in March to propose direct dialogue."

Trump then issued his own statement, confirming his pleas on Tice's behalf and reiterating calls for his release.

"Earlier this year, I asked the government of Syria to work with us to find and return Austin. I am again calling on Syria to help us bring him home," Trump said.

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.

In March, Trump said the United States had written a letter to authorities in Damascus, without specifying that he himself had written personally to Assad, who Washington wants out of power.

At that time, Trump said he did not know if Tice was still alive, but on Friday, he demanded answers from Damascus.

"There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans missing abroad," Trump said.

"The Tice family deserves answers. We stand with the Tice family and will not rest until we bring Austin home."

Pompeo said he and Trump hoped there would be "no need for another statement like this a year from now."

A year ago, the US government said it believed Tice was still alive. 

His mother Debra Tice said in January that she had "credible information" to that effect, without elaborating.

In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to his recovery.