WASHINGTON( Reuters) – Russia played a role in the release of an American citizen held bySyrian authorities and the United States has had “periodic contact” with the Syrian government, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Russian military had taken a U.S. citizen fromSyria to Moscow, after President Barack Obama personally asked President Vladimir Putin to help search for Americans in Syria. The man was handed over to the U.S. embassy in Moscow and has now left Russia, government ministries said on Friday.

The Washington Post, citing two U.S. officials, reported that Syria‘s government had released Kevin Dawes, who was abducted after traveling to Syria in 2012.

Dawes, described by the newspaper as a freelance photographer, was lately allowed to call family and receive care packages, signaling to officials that the Syrian government was moving toward his release, the Post reported.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said the person was freed several days ago and had left Syria but did not identify the individual.

“We are appreciative of efforts on the part of the Russian government that it undertake on behalf of the members of this U.S. citizen in Syria, ” Toner told a news briefing.

Toner did not elaborate on Moscow's involvement.

Toner said U.S. authorities have been in touch with Syrian officials, an instance of rare cooperation between the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations.

“We have also been in direct periodic contact with the Syrian government regarding consular issues in general and American citizens detained in Syria, ” Toner said.

The United States has called repeatedly for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down sinceSyria‘s civil war broke out in 2011.

The Washington Post told Dawes' release was seen as a positive sign for American reporter Austin Tice, who also went missing in Syria in 2012.

The State Department is continuing to work through Czech officials in Syria to get information on Tice as well as on other U.S. citizens missing in Syria.

Tice's household declined to comment.

( Reporting by Megan Cassella and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Paul Simao and James Dalgleish)

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