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Biden meets families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan amid US-Russia talks

Biden to meet Griner and Whelan families

Biden to meet families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan


Washington – President Biden met Friday at the White House with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security official Paul Whelan, both of whom are still imprisoned in Russia, the report said. White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre.

The separate meetings were the first face-to-face meeting between Mr. Biden and the families and came amid sustained, but so far unsuccessful, efforts by the administration to secure the Americans’ release. The administration said in July it had made a “substantial offer” to bring them home, but despite plans for White House meetings, there were no signs a breakthrough was imminent.

Mr. Biden met separately in the Oval Office with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, and Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, according to a Friday night statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“The President held these meetings to reiterate his continued commitment to work by all means available to bring Brittney and Paul home safely,” Jean-Pierre said. “He inquired about the well-being of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time. The President appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and recognized that every minute they are detained is a minute too long.”

Griner has been detained in Russia since February on drug-related charges. She was sentenced last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty and appealed the punishment. Whelan serves a 16 year sentence on espionage charges which he and his family say is untrue. The U.S. government considers the two wrongfully detained, placing their cases before the desk of its chief hostage negotiator.

“I want to thank President Biden for today’s meeting,” Cherelle Griner also said in a statement late Friday. “It was an honor to speak to him directly about the Brittney we know and love, and to thank him for the administration’s efforts to secure her release. I have felt every minute of the grueling seven months without her. I am waiting looking forward to the day my wife comes home.”

Negotiations have been complicated by strained relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“As we’ve said before, we believe that Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney and Paul in intolerable circumstances,” Jean-Pierre said during Thursday’s White House press briefing. “And, as you know, we have been in direct contact with the Russian government through the appropriate channels.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of announcing two months ago that the administration had made a substantial proposal in Russia. Since then, the administration has followed up in multiple ways to press his offer and begin serious negotiations, one of the administration officials said Thursday.

The Russians, who indicated they were open to negotiations but berated the Americans for conducting them privately, came back with suggestions that are beyond the reach of the administration, the official said, refusing to give more details. But the United States followed the same channels that produced an April prisoner exchange that brought in Navy veteran Trevor Reed from Russiathe manager said.

The administration did not provide details of its proposal, but a person familiar with the matter previously confirmed that it had offered to release Victor Bouta convicted Russian arms dealer currently imprisoned in the United States It is also possible that, for the sake of symmetry, Russia will insist that two of its citizens be released from prison.

Mr Biden spoken by phone in July with Griner’s wife and with Whelan’s sister, but the two families had also requested face-to-face meetings.

The meetings were held separately to ensure that each family had a private moment with the president. But the fact that they happened on the same day shows how intertwined the two cases are since the only deal that is likely acceptable to the United States is one that gets the two Americans – a famous WNBA player and a Michigan man who until recently was little known to the public — at home together at the same time,

In recent months, representatives of both families have expressed frustration at what they perceive to be a lack of aggressive action and coordination by the administration.

Cherelle Griner, for example, told The Associated Press in an interview in June that she was appalled after a failed phone call from his wife that was supposed to have been corrected by the US Embassy in Moscow, leaving the couple unable to connect. their fourth birthday.

Those close to Whelan have sought to keep the spotlight on his case, worried he has been overshadowed in the public eye by the focus on the far more important Griner – a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time Olympic star. the WNBA. They also expressed disappointment when Whelan, despite being held in Russia since December 2018, was not included in a prisoner exchange last April that brought home another detained American, the veteran of the Navy Trevor Reed.

Friday’s meeting was scheduled before news broke this week of an unrelated trip to Russia by Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations who served as a veteran envoy in hostage and detainee cases. Administration officials reacted coldly to the trip, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Wednesday that engaging with Russia outside the “established channel” could hamper efforts to bring Griner and Whelan back. at their home.

Administration officials say work on the hostage and detainee cases persists whether or not a family receives a meeting with the president, though there is no doubt that such a meeting could help establish a link. Mr Biden met in the oval office in March with Reed’s parents after the Texas couple stood with a large sign outside the White House calling for their son’s release.


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