Analysts say the Gulf state’s eventual role in securing the journalist’s release may be a challenge, given its adamant refusal to normalize with Bashar Al Assad’s regime.
The mother of American journalist Austin Tice, who has been held hostage in Syria since 2012, hopes Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will discuss her son’s release during Monday’s meeting with President Joe Biden in Washington.
Talk to Axios On Friday, Debra Tice said Qatar could help secure her son’s release if it receives US approval, circumventing sanctions imposed on Bashar Al Assad’s regime by the White House.
Tice was abducted while reporting from Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, on August 13, 2012a year after peaceful protests calling for the overthrow of Assad turned into a bloody civil war.
The journalist’s mother told the American media that there is a link between Qatar and the ICTE, given that he is an alumnus of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, which has a branch in the Gulf state. .
“I believe the United States needs to realize that things are changing rapidly in the Middle East and that Syria’s neighbors are very keen on resolving the conflict. And bringing Austin home would remove a barrier to some of that progress,” Tice’s mother said.
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Qatari government and White House officials declined to provide Axios with a comment on the matter, as analysts speculate on what issues will be discussed between Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and US President Joe Biden during the their next meeting.
Over the past few years, Qatar has successfully negotiated the release of political detainees and hostages in various parts of the world.
In 2014, Qatar acted as a mediator secret negotiations to release US Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Guantanamo Bay detainees. During the same year, he played a key role in securing the Release by American journalist Peter Theo Curtis of Jabhat Al-Nusra, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in Syria.
Further afield, in November last year, Qatar helped facilitate the release of American journalist Danny Fenster from Myanmar prison after being sentenced to 11 years for incitement.
Qatar also helped free seven Turkish citizens in the same month after they were held for two years by Libyan forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar.
Despite its record of successful hostage releases and prisoner swaps, analysts say Tice’s case represents an uphill battle for Qatar amid its refusal to restore diplomatic ties with the Assad regime.
“I would say that of all the Arab countries, Qatar has the worst relationship with the Assad regime and they are very adamant that they don’t want to normalize with the Assad regime at this point and that is a bit of a problem,” Dr Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, told Doha News on Saturday.
Commenting on Qatar’s previous roles in securing the release of prisoners, Dr Krieg said the Gulf state’s success came from the fact that it ‘had some sort of preliminary relationship or at least a side channel’ to talk to groups, most of which were non-state. actors.
“On the other hand, there are always incentives…[Qatar] did not only act as a transformational negotiator [by] using their personal connections or using intermediaries, but they also used a very transactional approach which was always based on bailouts,” the Middle East and North Africa studies researcher added.
However, Dr Krieg said incentives can also be used once the approach is approved by the United States, as sanctions against the Assad regime under the Caesar Act remain in place.
“In this particular case, there are quite a few hurdles to overcome,” he added.