September 25, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is meeting with family members of WNBA star Brittany Griner and Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia, on Friday.

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The meetings at the White House are the first face-to-face encounters between the president and relatives of Griner and Whelan. The White House said the meeting began shortly before 5 p.m. Friday in the Oval Office.

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Administration officials said the sessions are meant to underscore Biden’s commitment to bringing home Americans held abroad and establish personal ties, but do not indicate that talks with Russia for his release have reached a success. Has been.

see all: WNBA star Griner files appeal for Russian prison sentence

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National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday that Russia had not responded to what administration officials called an important and serious proposal to secure the release of Griner and Whelan.

“The president is not going to give up,” Kirby told reporters Friday ahead of the president’s meetings with families. “He is confident that this will be at the fore of his mind and that of his team, and he will continue to work as hard as he can.”

Griner has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges. He was sentenced last month to nine years in prison and has appealed the sentence. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges, which he and his family say are false. The US government considers both to be wrongfully detained, placing their cases in the office of its top hostage negotiator.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of announcing two months ago that the administration had made an important offer to Russia. Although he did not elaborate on the offer, a person familiar with the matter said the US has offered to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The administration conducted a prisoner swap last April, in which Moscow released maritime veteran Trevor Reid, in exchange for which the US convicted a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, of a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Jake Sullivan, the President’s National Security Adviser, is attending both meetings. Biden sits with Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan. In a separate session, the president is meeting with Brittany Griner’s wife, Cherrell Griner, as well as the player’s agent Lindsay Kolas, according to the White House.