By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday said the United States remains committed to bringing home Americans held captive overseas and helping their families, a year after the administration promised to overhaul its handling of hostage situations.
“We will not stop until we can bring our fellow citizens back to their families,” Obama said in a statement on the anniversary of the White House’s policy review.
Obama specifically named journalist Austin Tice who disappeared in Syria in 2012, Caitlan Coleman held in Afghanistan, and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran more than nine years ago.
Earlier this week, the families of four Americans killed by Islamic State urged Obama to do everything possible to bring home Tice, the only U.S. journalist known to be held in war-torn Syria.
The parents of the slain hostages criticized Obama for not personally naming Tice in his remarks at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner when Obama said that he would “fight for the release of American hostages held against their will.”
They said Tice’s return would be a test of the of the success of the administration’s new policy.
The White House undertook a six-month review of its hostage policies after complaints from families that their initiatives to free relatives captured abroad had been discouraged and sometimes blocked by government officials.
As part of the overhaul, Obama named James O’Brien special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department to help coordinate the efforts of law enforcement and diplomats.
“But I know our work will not be done until our fellow Americans who are held against their will, and whose families mark their calendars by the days since they’ve held their loved ones, are reunited,” Obama said.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Sandra Maler)