The State Department said on Friday that Russia played a role in facilitating the release of a U.S. citizen detained by Syrian authorities, and Washington has been “in direct, periodic contact” with Damascus about American citizens detained there.
“We are appreciative of efforts on the part of Russia, on the Russian government, that it took on behalf of this U.S. citizen in Syria,” said Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner during the daily briefing.
Kevin Patrick Dawes, a 33-year-old freelance photographer from San Diego, was abducted while traveling in Syria in 2012. His release following months of negotiations was confirmed to VOA by State Department Spokesman John Kirby.
“We can confirm and welcome the news that a U.S. citizen was released by Syrian authorities," Kirby said. "The United States continues to work through every possible means to ensure the safe release of U.S. citizens reported missing or taken in Syria."
The State Department also said the freed American is no longer in Syria because he was released in “the last few days.”
Austin Tice still detained
Dawes was abducted after he crossed from Turkey into Syria.
In recent months, Dawes has been allowed to speak with his family during phone calls and to receive care packages from home, which signaled to U.S. officials that Syria likely would release him.
Another man, freelance journalist Austin Tice, is still missing in Syria.
Tice went missing in northern Syria on August 12, 2012. The Syrian government has never admitted to imprisoning Tice, but it is widely believed the government or an affiliated group is holding him.
Private security consultants who have been working on Tice’s case take Dawes' release as a good omen.
Toner said the case of Tice is “something we raise all the time,” and the U.S. government is in direct contact with his family.
“We continue to work through the Czechs on the ground to get information on the welfare and whereabouts of Austin Tice,” said Toner.
The Syrian regime has never publicly acknowledged holding Tice, a former U.S. Marine, but in recent weeks negotiations have been underway for his release involving third parties and the Russians, a consultant told VOA. The consultant asked not to be named as the talks are highly confidential and are entering a critical stage.
According to the consultant, proof that Tice remains alive was recently provided.
VOA State Department Correspondent Pamela Dockins and Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.