RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Freelance journalist Austin Tice was taken captive in Syria in August of 2012. Aside from a video released five weeks after his capture, his parents have not seen or heard from him since. However, they've been given new information recently that's giving them new reasons to hope for his safe return in 2017. Austin's parents Debra and Marc Tice recently met with President Obama's Envoy for Hostage Affairs, a man named James O'Brien. I asked Marc and Debra to tell us what they could about their conversation with him.
MARC TICE: What he shared with us was what senator - our senator, John Cornyn, shared which is that it's the assessment of the United States government that Austin, our son, is alive, that he's still being held captive in Syria. And for that reason, we continue to ask our government and others to do everything they can to bring him home.
MARTIN: Senator John Cornyn, we should say, who's also been instrumental in working on this. So you know that he's alive.
DEBRA TICE: That means a lot, Rachel, just exactly the way that you just said it.
M. TICE: It's, you know - it's - we've never had any doubt. We have been confident from the time he first went missing, but it's fantastically uplifting to hear that same word from people in our government that can make that assessment and share that with us.
MARTIN: I understand that all these conversations are sensitive, but do you know any more about who is holding Austin? I mean, we've seen reports attributed to Reporters Without Borders that say Austin is not being held by ISIS, and there is some hint that his captors may be allied with the Syrian government. What can you tell us?
D. TICE: We can't tell you much, Rachel. You know, the most important thing that the bottom of that question, the question that you're asking behind that is, you know, what can be done on their end to resolve this situation and bring Austin safely home? But what we need is for those that are holding Austin to reach out and to let us know what needs to be done to bring him safely home.
MARTIN: Because you don't really know what his captors are demanding because you haven't been able to engage at that level of communication.
D. TICE: Exactly.
M. TICE: No, it's exactly right. And, you know, in the same way that we have been asking our government to do everything it can, we continue to reach out in whatever way we can, including this broadcast, to the Syrian government to ask them to do everything they can to locate Austin, do everything possible and hopefully work with our government to bring him home.
MARTIN: I understand you also met with President Obama this past summer. What was his message to you?
D. TICE: He assured us that it is a priority for him, that he is committed to doing this, that should it become necessary because we met with him in July that he would brief the incoming administration and make sure that Austin's return remained a high priority.
MARTIN: How have you two managed your own expectations, especially in light of this most recent news, this belief that Austin is alive? How do you internalize that...
D. TICE: Well...
MARTIN: ...And keep your expectations in check, I guess?
D. TICE: No, not at all. We don't try to contain our expectations or mitigate our hope or anything like that. We keep the light on, and we keep the sheets clean. You know, we keep the refrigerator stocked, so that when he walks in the door, we will be so ready to just hug him and get on with the next thing.
M. TICE: What about you, Marc? You know Austin's an extraordinary individual, even as I say that as his father, and so I have a lot of confidence in his strength of mind, his strength of spirit and heart and just looking forward to that big hug when he gets home.
MARTIN: Debra and Marc Tice are the parents of journalist Austin Tice. And we should also note a large banner calling for Austin's safe return has been mounted in front of the Newseum here in Washington, D.C. The banner will stay there until Austin Tice is returned safely to his family. Debra and Marc, thank you so much for talking with us.
M. TICE: Thank you, Rachel.
D. TICE: Thank you, Rachel. And we wish you all the best in the new year.
MARTIN: With all of us, know that we are wishing for Austin's safe return.
M. TICE: Thank you.
D. TICE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.