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Our Son, Brother, and Friend Austin

Austin Bennett Tice is a home schooled, Eagle Scout, National Merit Finalist, graduate of Georgetown University, former Captain in the United States Marine Corps and recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for War Reporting.  He is the eldest of seven children, and was born and raised in Texas. 

In May of 2012, the summer before his final year at Georgetown Law School, he chose to go to Syria as a Freelance Journalist to report on the conflict there.  Two days after his 31st birthday, on August 13, 2012, his editors, family and friends lost contact with Austin, as he was preparing to travel from Daraya, near Damascus, to Beirut, Lebanon.

This website was created and is maintained by his family for the sole purpose of hastening Austin's safe return home.

ابننا وأخونا وصديقنا أوستن

 لمحة عن أوستن بينيت:

تلقى الدراسة الأولية في المنزل. عضوٌ في فرقة كشافة النسر. حائز على شهادة الاستحقاق الوطني. خريج جامعة جورجتاون. نقيب سابق في مشاة البحرية الأمريكية وحائز على جائزة جورج بولك لمراسلي الحرب. ولد ونشأ في تكساس وهو الأكبر بين سبعة أولادٍ للعائلة.

في شهر أيار/مايو من سنة 2012، وقبل السنة الأخيرة لتخرجه من كلية القانون في جامعة جورجتاون، قرر الذهاب إلى سورية كصحافي و مراسل مستقل لينقل أخبار النزاع من هناك. وفي 13 آب/أغسطس سنة 2012 وبعد يومين من عيد ميلاده، فقد زملاؤه المحرِّرون وكذلك عائلته وأصدقاؤه كل اتصال معه بينما كان يستعدّ للسفر من مدينة درعا جنوب دمشق إلى بيروت في لبنان. ولقد قامت عائلته بإنشاء هذا الموقع الإلكتروني والإشراف عليه لغاية واحدة فقط وهي التعجيل بعودة أوستن سليماً إلى بيته.

June 9, 2014

We hope the amnesty President al-Assad announced today will lead to the reunion of many families with their loved ones, and we pray it will encourage Austin's captor's to quickly and safely release Austin so our family, too, may be reunited.  

President al-Assad grants general amnesty on crimes committed before June 9th, 2014 

Jun 09, 2014

Damascus, (SANA) President Bashar al-Assad issued Monday Legislative Decree no. 22 for 2014 granting a general amnesty for crimes committed before June 9, 2014.

The amnesty commutes sentences with more lenient ones, including commuting the death sentence to life penal labor, life penal labor to 20 years of penal labor, and life in prison to 20 years in prison.

The amnesty also commutes the entire duration of the sentence for convicts with incurable terminal illness, convicts who are 70 or above, and for convicts of several crimes and misdemeanors, including abduction if the abductor frees the victim safely without taking ransom or delivers the victim to the authorities within a month of issuing this decree.

The decree also grants amnesty for foreigners who entered Syria with the purpose of joining a terrorist group or committing a terrorist act if they turn themselves in to the authorities within a month of issuing this decree.

Deserters are also granted full amnesty, both those who are inside Syria and abroad and who are not fugitives from justice. Fugitives wanted for other crimes can also benefit from the amnesty if they turn themselves in within three months.

The amnesty does not affect convictions from personal lawsuits which remain under the jurisdiction of courts and the individuals or sides who files the lawsuits.

March 6, 2014

It has been more than one year and a half since we last had contact with Austin.  The passage of time sharpens our pain and strengthens our resolve.  We continue to seek support to find and bring Austin safely home, and we continuously give thanks for everyone who has and is helping us make his return a reality.  Our prayers go out to everyone whose lives have been impacted by events in Syria and the region, we know there is pain far beyond our own.  Still we hold out hope - not only for Austin, but for all.  May peace prevail.

Marc and Debra Tice and Family

مارس/آذار 2014

سنةٌ ونصف السنة مضت حتى الآن على آخر اتصال لنا مع أوستن. مرور الزمن يزيد من آلامنا ويقوّي عزيمتنا. سنبقى نناشد العالم لمساعدتنا في البحث عنه وتأمين عودته. نحن نصلي دائماً من أجل كل الناس الذين تأثروا بشكل أو بآخر بالأحداث التي تجري في سورية وفي المنطقة، ونعلم تماماً أن هناك أناساً تزيد آلامهم عن آلامنا. مع كل ذلك، فنحن لن نفقد الأمل، ليس فقط بعودة أوستن، إنما بأن يعمّ السلام جميع الناس.

مارك وديبرا تايس والعائلة

December 23, 2013

This is a season of family togetherness, of hope and joy.  We wish everyone who sees this all those things.  We ask you to light a candle, say a prayer, spare a thought for all those missing and suffering; that the missing would be found, the suffering alleviated, and joy return.

Marc and Debra Tice and Family

December 22, 2013

CBS Sunday Evening News

November 27, 2013

Until Yesterday, My Father Was the Longest-Held Hostage in U.S. History

By Sulome Anderson

Yesterday, Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared while traveling in Iran in 2006, became the longest-held American hostage in history. He replaces my father, Terry Anderson, who spent 2,454 days in captivity before being released. My father, AP's bureau chief in Beirut at the time, was kidnapped by a Shia militant group in Lebanon three months before I was born. I met him for the first time in December 1991, when I was almost 7.

“Longest-held American hostage” — it’s a dubious honor, to say the least: the waiting, the false alarms, the images of your loved one, thin and pale, holding a hateful sign or speaking terrorist propaganda. The photos of a haunted, bearded Levinson wearing an orange jumpsuit brought tears to my eyes. The first time I ever saw my father speak, he looked just like that. I was a child, and his captors would intermittently release videos of him to the press. That was the image I carried of my father in my head for seven years; that and the picture of him from a happier time I kept under my pillow and kissed every night before I went to sleep.

My heart goes out to Mr. Levinson's family. Unfortunately, my father’s release was not the happy ending portrayed by the media. No mortal man could have lived up to my child’s expectations of what he would be like, but he came home deeply traumatized, robbed in many ways of his capability to be the father I needed — that every child needs.

I’m a journalist now and work mostly out of Beirut, a career choice many find bizarre. I think I became a reporter partly because I wanted to feel closer to my father, on a deeply subconscious level, but also as a result of what I considered to be betrayal by the press — a betrayal I promised myself never to repeat. The media wanted a neat resolution to the saga of my father’s captivity. Viewers don’t like ambiguous endings. But there was no neatness to his arrival in my life, or my arrival in his. Events like this don’t get tied up in a bow. Some threads are torn forever; others dangle inescapably from one’s life for decades.

My father’s trauma, and its effect on my family, left me with a chronic mental illness I’m still recovering from. The men who kidnapped him stole my childhood and hijacked my adult years. They took away the brothers and sisters I could have had and forever warped the way in which I relate to the people around me. His captivity had a ripple effect that shaped my life, for better or worse.

I’ve been attempting to understand how such a thing could have happened to my family since I was old enough to form thoughts. I try to imagine what it’s like in the mind of a person who would take a man’s freedom and keep his loved ones suffering for years, robbed of their husband and father. I don’t always succeed, but I stopped hating the men who took my father years ago. I hate the circumstances that created them and the forces that tear nations apart, making it possible for people to hurt one another with such devastating casualness.

I’ll be brutally honest. As painful as this is for me to admit, I hated my father for quite some time. After he came home, I would cry at night and pray for him to disappear from my life as suddenly as he had appeared. I couldn’t comprehend why he was unable to express emotions or form a connection with me, the daughter who had worshiped his photograph for so long. The years have brought me a deeper understanding of the damage wrought by that kind of trauma, and overwhelming respect for his courage. At the time, though, it wasn’t possible for me to understand anything except the hurt I felt when he snapped at me, the frustration of wanting to be held by a man who hadn’t felt any human contact that wasn’t violent for seven years.

But I got him back. With all the mess and the misunderstandings, all the slammed doors, harsh words, and quiet tears, I can call my father today and tell him I love him, or ask him for help on a story. I can’t possibly imagine a world in which I never had him in my life.

No one understands better than me the painful limbo the Levinsons must be living in. Unable to grieve, unable to move on and mourn the passing of your loved one, because he could very well be alive. It’s a sick kind of hope, one that turns sour. I hope from the bottom of my heart it ends soon, and with his safe homecoming. But even after the cameras leave, my thoughts will be with the Levinsons, as they struggle to make sense of their happy ending.

Sulome Anderson is a journalist and author based between Beirut and New York City. She's currently working on a book about her family's experience. Follow her on Twitter: @SulomeAnderson.

October 18, 2013

Our hearts and prayers are with the Foley family as they mark Jim's 40th birthday.

Family still hopeful about NH man missing in Syria


— Oct. 18, 2013 2:16 PM EDT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The parents of an American journalist missing in Syria for nearly a year said Friday that recent events in that country have given them renewed hope of finding their son.

James Foley was last seen Nov. 22 in northwestern Syria, where he was contributing videos from the civil war to Agence France-Presse and the media company GlobalPost.

John and Diane Foley, of Rochester, N.H., were marking their son's 40th birthday Friday with a prayer vigil. They've held frequent vigils to pray for his safe return.

In an interview with The Associated Press, they said the Syrian regime's decision to allow United Nations teams in to oversee destruction of chemical weapons could reveal more clues about their son's whereabouts and possibly lead to his release.

"We're very hopeful in that the U.N. teams that are going to Syria to find and destroy the chemical warfare weapons will basically be able to gather more information and perhaps even find Jim," John Foley said.

The Foleys also said they had a positive, second meeting Thursday with Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari in New York."He was very empathetic, gave us his time as a parent would and that was very hopeful," Diane Foley said. "He has said the regime does not have him and feels likely he's being held in the north by one of the radical rebel groups."

Investigators have said they believe Foley is being held by the government near Damascus with one or more Western journalists, but the Foleys said they're less sure about that information now. "With particularly the increased awareness that rebel groups are capturing people right and left, it's much less clear," she said.

New Hampshire's U.S. senators, Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, released a joint statement pressing the State Department and FBI to continue to work for Foley's release. "We remain hopeful that James will be found and safely brought home to his family," they said.

Foley was captured by Libyan forces in 2011. His captors then allowed him to make a phone call to confirm he was alive. The family has had no contact with him since his Thanksgiving Day abduction in Syria.

At least 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the country's civil war, now in its third year. The Foleys appealed to the world community to pray for an end to the conflict. "We need peace. We need diplomacy," Diane Foley said. "There's so much suffering going on in Syria and we're acutely aware that our suffering is just a bit of it. We're just hoping at this time of prayer for Jim's birthday and peace in the Middle East, that there might be a softening of hearts."

October 17, 2013

We ask Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad to similarly "leave no stone unturned"  to bring Austin back to the United States, his family and his people.

Canadian U.N. worker escapes rebel captors, Syria says

Thu Oct 17, 2013 5:33pm EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Canadian lawyer working for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Syria has escaped from rebel fighters who held him for eight months, the Syrian government said on Thursday.

State television showed Carl Campeau being handed over to the senior U.N. official in Damascus, Yacoub El-Hillo, by deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

"I was held prisoner for eight months," Campeau said in brief remarks to Syrian television, adding that he managed to escape this week when his captors "forgot to lock the door" of the house where he was being held.

A rebel source said at the time of Campeau's disappearance that he was being held for ransom by a rival brigade of Syrian rebels battling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

"I want to congratulate him for managing to escape from these criminal gangs," Mekdad said. "The Syrian government...left no stone unturned to bring him back to the United Nations, his family and his people".

Campeau, a legal adviser to the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), went missing in mid-February.

His capture was followed by the detention of 21 Filipino UNDOF observers by rebels, which forced the mission to scale back patrols along a ceasefire line between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria. They were freed three days later.

UNDOF, which has been monitoring the area since 1974, has about 1,000 peacekeepers and civilian staff from India, Nepal, Ireland, Fiji, Moldova, Morocco and the Philippines.

Peacekeepers from Austria, Croatia and Japan have pulled out because of the growing threat from Syria's 2-1/2 year civil war. The Philippines said in July it would likely keep its 342 soldiers in the ceasefire zone for six more months.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans; editing by Ralph Boulton and Patrick Graham)

© Thomson Reuters 2013 All rights reserved.

September 29, 2013

It is our dearest hope that in also actively respecting treaties regarding the status and treatment of journalists in war zones the Syrian government will do their utmost to locate, free and safely return Austin to us.

Assad says Syria will respect U.N. chemical weapons accords: Italian TV

ROME Sun Sep 29, 2013 11:33am EDT

 (Reuters) - Syria will respect United Nations accords on chemical weapons, President Bashar al-Assad told Italian television station RaiNews24 on Sunday.

"We joined the international agreement against the acquisition and use of chemical weapons even before this resolution was passed," he said when asked if Syria would comply with Friday's U.N. resolution.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on Friday that demands the eradication of Syria's chemical weapons but does not threaten automatic punitive action against Assad's government if it does not comply.

"The central part of it is based on what we ourselves wanted. So it is not about a resolution, in reality it is our own intention," he said, according to the Italian translation of his remarks.

"In 2003, the U.N. Security Council proposed liberating this entire region from these arms and declaring the Middle East a region free of chemical weapons. So it is obvious, we have to respect these conditions, it is part of our history," he said. "We have to respect all treaties we sign."

 (Reporting By James MacKenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

September 24, 2013

Prepared Remarks: President Obama's speech to the United Nations

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary


10:10 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: Each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution. For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires. Divisions of race and religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies. The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking. The leaders who built the United Nations were not naive; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars. But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble, and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet, they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on. And so they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.

For decades, the United Nations has in fact made a difference -- from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace. But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested. The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my tenure as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are once again being lifted out of poverty. But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunities that they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Together, we’ve also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing. Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties. We’re transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago. But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates that dangers remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall, and our hearts go out to the families of those who have been affected. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a terrible part of life. And meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which doesn't give them the capacity at this point to carry out attacks like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have too often been answered by violence -- from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction continues to cast a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria. There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter. In the face of such carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity -- Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd -- and the situation spiraled into civil war.

The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is stillborn. America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis. Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

Now, the crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa -- conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations and international law in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues. With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and in the interest of the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the United Nations itself. The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocating in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods. It’s an insult to human reason -- and to the legitimacy of this institution -- to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

Now, I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all. However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue. And in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria. I do not believe that military action -- by those within Syria, or by external powers -- can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria; that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.

It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate. In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears and concerns of Alawites and other minorities.

We are committed to working this political track. And as we pursue a settlement, let’s remember this is not a zero-sum endeavor. We’re no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the wellbeing of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring that it does not become a safe haven for terrorists.

I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war. And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries. America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million. No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to rebuild their country, but it can help desperate people to survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria? I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of American resolve in the region. Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows we’ve learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes. In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world. But these contradictory attitudes have a practical impact on the American people’s support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region -- as well as the international community sometimes -- to avoid addressing difficult problems themselves.

So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when it’s necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.

Now, to say that these are America’s core interests is not to say that they are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interests to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous, and will continue to promote democracy and human rights and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity. But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action, particularly through military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot simply be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community and with the countries and peoples of the region.

So what does this mean going forward? In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly -- or through proxies -- taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight -- the suspicions run too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it's the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. And this is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran. The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

But I want to be clear we are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. And given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union -- the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential -- in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible. And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations. They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they too recognize that two states is the only real path to peace -- because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

So the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state, and we should say so clearly. Arab states, and those who supported the Palestinians, must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.

All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. And moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work. So let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice. Let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues -- Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace -- would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa. But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations. It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States -- like others -- was struck by the speed of transition, and although we did not -- and in fact could not -- dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change. And we did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it, too, has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy -- through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press and civil society and opposition parties. Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal of power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today. And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counterterrorism. We’ll continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people. But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.

And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests. Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World. We believe they are the birthright of every person. And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will at times be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria. We understand such longstanding issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves. But we’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before -- most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world. And so we believe those same sectarian conflicts can be overcome in the Middle East and North Africa.

To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion. Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show, the danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war -- rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world -- may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. But I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional -- in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.

I must be honest, though. We're far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us, that invest in their people instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute -- men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew. Because from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity. And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab world.

This leads me to a final point. There will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, the violence against civilians so substantial that the international community will be called upon to act. This will require new thinking and some very tough choices. While the United Nations was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states. And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing -- places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from their national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect basic human rights. But we cannot and should not bear that burden alone. In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace. In Eastern Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end. And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action. Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson. They point to the problems that the country now confronts -- a democratically elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land. And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail -- look at Libya. No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens -- a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi. But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qaddafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission? It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye. While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica? If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

But I believe we can embrace a different future. And if we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better -- all of us -- at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals. Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules. Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, not merely its aftermath. Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized. And yes, sometimes -- although this will not be enough -- there are going to be moments where the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks -- one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kinds of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities. Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth today can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity. I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off. And America is with them, partnering to feed the hungry and care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific region, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation. I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, and combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past. That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa. It’s happening in Europe and across the Americas. That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve as well -- one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change -- to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history. Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on. We're ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you -- firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity and inalienable rights that cannot be denied. That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope. And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

July 05, 2013

Parents of reporter missing in Syria plead for news

By Sara Hussein (AFP) – Jul 5, 2013 

BEIRUT — Debra Tice wakes up each morning hoping her life will have changed and the 11 months since her son Austin disappeared in Syria will turn out to have been a bad dream.

But since she and her husband Marc learnt that their 31-year-old first-born had gone missing while reporting in the war-torn country, not a single morning has given her that relief.

"I just wake up and think, I woke up again and nothing has changed, it wasn't a dream," she told AFP in Beirut, where she and her husband are looking for information about their missing child.

"I put my feet on the floor and I build a wall around my emotions and I just think about what strength I need for today," she added.

Austin Tice was in law school in the United States when he decided to head to Syria last year to try to kickstart a journalism career.

He contributed to the Washington Post and McClatchy newspapers, among others, and was awarded a prestigious Polk award after his disappearance in August 2012.

Since then, his parents and his six brothers and sisters have had almost no information about him.

In September, a video showing him purportedly being held by radical Islamists surfaced, but questions were raised about whether those shown in the video were really militants, and Marc Tice says the recording "raised more questions than it answered".

Still, he says, the video proved their son was still alive -- a rare moment of relief in an otherwise agonising search for information that has included two trips to the region and numerous meetings with anyone who will talk to them.

"We will meet with anybody," Debra says. "If you tell me a taxi driver on a street corner in the middle of nowhere knows how to get my son home, I will go meet with him."

"We would go to Damascus, if it was purposeful, if we were invited," adds Marc.

US officials believe Tice is being held by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which is fighting an armed rebellion triggered by a bloody crackdown on democracy protests that broke out in March 2011.

The Tices say the Syrian government denies any record of their son being in the country, but has agreed to search for him.

"Honestly, we're not that interested in who or why, we're interested in how do we get him back, what is needed to return him to us safely," Marc says.

As part of their search, the family has set up a website,, where anyone with information can contact them.

And they urge their son's captors to reach out.

"We ask you to keep him safe, take care of him, let him know that he's loved and people are looking for him and especially let us know how we can bring him home again."

In the meanwhile, Tice's family are trying to lead something approaching a normal life, celebrating birthdays and graduations.

"You can just never really give your heart fully to joy, because there's this 'where's our big guy?' feeling," Debra says.

"He's so profoundly missing for us."

The separation is particularly hard for Debra, who homeschooled her seven children.

"The only thing I ever wanted to do was to be a mummy of lots of kids!" she laughs.

Tice is one of at least seven reporters missing in Syria, including James Foley, an American video contributor to AFP who has not been heard from since last November.

The Tices say they have reached out to the families of other missing reporters to share information and support.

"It's a club that the membership price is very steep, no one wants to join," Debra says quietly.

She thinks often about how she will react when she is reunited with Austin.

"You know that feeling when your child lets go of your hand in the mall?" she says with a smile.

"You're frantic and you're looking, and then you find them, and first you hug them and then you spank them? It's that kind of reaction."

Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved.

July 03, 2013

Karen Leigh (@leighstream)
- Syria Deeply –  July 03, 2013

In Beirut, A Family’s Search for Austin Tice

On August 13, 2012, Austin Tice, a 31-year-old American journalist writing for McClatchy newswires, the Washington Post and other publications vanished without a trace from the Damascus suburb where he’d been living and working.

Tice, a former USMC infantry officer, had put his law studies at Georgetown University on hold to cover the Syrian conflict.

In May, Global Post, investigating the disappearance of one of its own freelance reporters, James Foley, said it believed Foley, along with at least one other American journalist (widely believed to be Tice) was being held by the Syrian regime in the vicinity of the capital.

On a fact-finding visit to Beirut this week, Austin’s parents, Marc and Debra Tice, talked with Syria Deeply.

Syria Deeply: You had to be nervous when he said, “I’m moving to Syria.”

Marc: Going back to when he told us that he was going to go to Syria in the first place, if you know Austin, you know that he’s not reckless, he’s incredibly thoughtful, he’s not impulsive. He’s also incredibly passionate and determined, and when he decides he needs to do something, that’s what he’s going to do. He didn’t go lightly. He talked to a lot of people before he went. He does have training. He’s not new to areas of crisis. So we had that confidence. On the other hand, of course you’re concerned.

Debra: But I still get concerned when he’s home and rides his bike without a helmet.

Austin Tice / Courtesy Tice Family

Austin Tice / Courtesy Tice Family

Marc: Or the motorcycle he bought.

Debra: Oh my gosh.

Marc: We learned a long time ago not to talk him out of something. We try to ask whatever questions we can ask to make sure he’s thought of anything. What advice do we have to give him about journalism in Syria? We don’t have any.

Debra: My personality – Austin was home-schooled – is that a job half-done is a job wholly undone. So for him to want to tell this story, he needed to do all he could to get the whole story. It was important to him to try to understand all sides of the story. He just wouldn’t be satisfied with half. It had to be all.

SD: Was it an anomaly not to hear from him?

Marc: If we didn’t Google chat or Facebook with him [personally], we saw where he had chatted or emailed or talked to somebody, and we know all the people he was talking to. So pretty much every day, we’d communicate with him or know he was communicating with someone. One time we didn’t hear from him for two days, and –

Debra: I knew that I was on very thin ice when I picked up the phone for the first time, found his editor’s name and number in a directory, and called and said, I know I’m going to be in really big trouble for this, but …

Marc: And sure enough, when he popped back up, he was furious. “That was so unprofessional! I don’t want my mom calling my editor!” But his editor was a bear of a guy with a big heart.

Debra: They’ve been stellar for us.

Marc: That was the only time we’d not been in touch or heard anything from him.

Debra: And then he really drilled it into us, you can’t be freaking out after five minutes of not hearing from me.

Marc: So then when it was three days, four days, we’d developed a good relationship with the people at McClatchy. Debbie was canoeing in the boundary waters in Minnesota, and I was at home. I called McClatchy, and they said, We haven’t heard from him either, and we’re concerned. We got a call back from the Washington bureau chief who said we’ve got word out, then we got a call from the State Department that they’d been alerted and were seeing what they could do. And every day since then has been, OK, tomorrow we’re going to hear from him, tomorrow he’ll be released.

Debra: Our phones are on all the time, with us.

SD: Were you aware of the risks faced in Syria by freelance journalists?

Marc: When he went, he had an arrangement with McClatchy. So we knew he had a shot – originally he was only going to do photos – and that there would be someone that would look at him and get him published. I didn’t think about insurance, support, backup. I do now. Because we’re connected to organizations like Reporters without Borders. I guess if we had known about all this, we would have asked those questions.

Debra: We knew Austin would know the questions to have asked.

Marc: I don’t worry about him knowing basic field first aid. Of course he does. And he’s big, tough and very smart.

SD: He won the Polk Award while missing. It’s arguably the most prestigious award a journalist can win for Syria coverage.

Debra: It was so affirming that he was on the right path and doing something he’s very gifted at. And on the other hand …

Marc: He will be, if he doesn’t know now, he will be thrilled. And McClatchy gave him their President’s Award. It’s a great thing, you want to celebrate, but you can’t really celebrate. It is affirming, for him and for us, I hope, confirming that he was there as a journalist, that’s what he was all about. And he wasn’t some crazy guy taking a flier. He was capable. He was a freelancer, but – he had a contract going in, he picked up a couple more when he was there, he won the Polk. He wasn’t looking for adventure. He was doing a job.

Debra: Before he left, when he was letting news outlets know that he was going, he was really adamant about personal interviews [with editors]. He really didn’t want to just have electronic relationships. He’s a firstborn son, Type A, driven, confident. In August, he started getting calls from the BBC, from CBS, saying, can you do a spot for us?

Marc: He felt trained and ready to be a photojournalist. And then his editor asked him to write a backstory on a photo. When he did, his editor said, “And now you will write an article.”

Debra: He will be thrilled and proud and happy to have been recognized for what he was doing. He was confident that he could do this, but he’d never done it before. Anytime you try your hand at something you haven’t done before professionally, succeeding is a thrill.

(The Tice family welcomes tips and information at