WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan on Friday, where he reaffirmed his commitment to pursue all available avenues to bring their loved ones back from Russia.
“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,” the White House said Friday. evening.
Meetings with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, which took place separately, were the first in-person meetings between Biden and family members, although they spoke by phone.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Moscow court last month, and her defense team is appealing. Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17 after authorities said they found cannabis-infused vape cartridges in her luggage.
Whelan has been detained since 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence.
The US government said both were wrongfully detained.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have an outcome here to share with you, but the president felt it was important to continue the dialogue with family members, this is happening today,” said John Kirby, coordinator of the National Security Council for strategic communications, on Friday before the meeting. “We have stayed in contact with them throughout, kept them informed throughout, but negotiations are still ongoing.”
The White House is in talks with Russian officials about releasing the two Americans, and Biden said last month he hoped a deal could be reached to free Griner. But since then, there have been few signs of progress from the administration.
NBC News reported in July that the United States had offered to trade Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence. In August, after Griner’s sentencing, Russia said it was open to discussing the possibility of a swap, but US officials said the Russians had not offered a serious counter-offer.
“They didn’t respond to our offer. We made a serious offer to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home, the Russians didn’t respond to that offer, but that doesn’t mean they don’t weren’t in negotiations yet and we’re not trying yet,” Kirby said.