The Cradle reported on Tuesday that the US and Syria have been engaged in secret, direct negotiations in the Omani capital of Muscat.
The report cited a senior diplomatic official in the Arab League who said the talks included “security figures from both countries and representatives of foreign Ministries.”
Topics discussed in the meetings included the US occupation of eastern Syria and Austin Tice, an American who went missing in Syria in 2012 while working as a freelance journalist. The US claims Tice is alive in Syrian custody, something Damascus has repeatedly denied.
When asked if The Cradle report could be confirmed, the State Department told Antiwar.com that it was engaged with “a number of countries in the region” to try and get Tice home.
“We are engaging extensively to try to get Austin home. We have pursued every channel we can to seek his safe return to his family, and will continue to do so. That includes discussing this case with a number of countries in the region,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email.
“We will keep working until we see his safe return to the United States. As President Biden said, we are not ceasing our effort to find Austin Tice and bring him home,” the spokesperson added. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made similar comments, saying the US was “engaged” with third countries, including Syria.
According to The Cradle’s source, during the talks in Muscat, a US envoy “repeatedly confirmed that he has information that Austin Tice is alive and in a Syrian army detention center.” But the Syrian side “insisted that it had no information about Tice, with Damascus expressing its readiness to make all possible efforts to reveal his fate.”
The Cradle said that the Syrian side “mainly pressed” the US to withdraw all of its troops from Syria. The report cited other “field sources” who claimed the US actually has 2,000 troops in Syria, significantly more than the Pentagon’s official figure of 900.
The revelation of the dialogue between Washington and Damascus comes amid a major regional push to normalize relations with the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Damascus was recently readmitted into the Arab League, a step the US opposes as Washington prefers to keep Syria isolated and under crippling economic sanctions, which are designed to prevent the country’s reconstruction.