President Joe Biden met with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two American citizens who remain detained in Russia, on Friday at the White House.
Officials from the White House say the meetings do not indicate a breakthrough in negotiations with Russia for the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. President Joe Biden met with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, on Friday, their first face-to-face meeting.
Biden stressed to the families his “continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely,” according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement issued after the separate meetings.
“He inquired about the well-being of Elizabeth and Cherelle, as well as their respective families, during this difficult time,” Jean-Pierre explained. “The President appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who care the most about them, and he recognised that every minute they are detained is a minute too long.”
Nonetheless, administration officials have stated that the meetings do not indicate that negotiations for their release with Russia have reached a breakthrough.
Earlier Friday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated that Russia has not responded to what administration officials have described as a substantial and serious offer to secure Griner and Whelan’s release.
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“The president will not relent,” Kirby told reporters. “He’s confident that this will remain at the forefront of his and his team’s minds, and that they will continue to work as hard as they can.”
Griner has been detained in Russia on drug-related charges since February. She was sentenced to nine years in prison last month after pleading guilty, and she has filed an appeal. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on false espionage charges, according to his family. Both are wrongfully detained, according to the US government, which has referred their cases to the office of its top hostage negotiator.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step two months ago of announcing that the administration had made a significant proposal to Russia. Though he did not elaborate, a person familiar with the situation says the US has offered to free be convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Last April, the administration completed a prisoner swap in which Moscow released Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for the release of a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted in a drug trafficking conspiracy by the United States.
Both meetings were attended by Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser. Biden met with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister. According to the White House, the president then met with Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and the player’s agent, Lindsay Colas.
In a statement issued late Friday, Cherelle Griner thanked Biden for the meeting.
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