Biden to meet the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan at the White House

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WASHINGTON, DC. (CNN) — President Joe Biden will meet with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan at the White House on Friday, his first face-to-face meeting with them since their loved ones were detained in Russia.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday that Biden will meet Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, to reassure them that his administration is committed to the release of their loved ones and that they “stay at the door”. mind.” Biden will meet them separately, an official said.

“One of the things the president wanted to make clear, and one of the reasons he’s meeting the families, is that he wanted to let them know that they’re envisioned and that his team is working on this every day. make sure Brittney and Paul get home safely,” said Jean-Pierre.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that working towards the release of Griner and Whelan, as well as those of Americans wrongfully detained abroad, is a top priority. In late July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the US had submitted a “substantial proposal” to try to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. Sources told CNN the proposal included an exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

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Griner was arrested in February for carrying cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug possession, saying she accidentally packed the drugs while she was in a hurry. She has been sentenced to nine years along with a fine of approximately $16,400. Her legal team in Russia has appealed the verdict.

Whelan has been detained in Russia for more than three years after he was convicted on spying charges that he vehemently denies. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020 in a trial labeled as unfair by US officials.

National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby told CNN’s MJ Lee on Friday afternoon that the president “will not give up” over the ongoing detentions.

“He is confident that this will remain at the forefront of his mind and in the mind of his team, and will continue to work on this as hard as possible,” Kirby said.

When asked why Russia hadn’t yet accepted a US offer for Griner and Whelan’s return, Kirby replied: “If we had the answer to that question, we might already have a deal. I think that’s a better question for ours.” Russian colleagues.”

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“We’ve made a serious offer, we want them to accept it,” Kirby said. “Frankly, these two people should be home anyway, period, but we understand that this will probably have to be the result of the negotiation process, a process in which we want to participate honestly and fully and that we have done that. We are waiting for them.” to accept the offer on the table.”

A senior government official told CNN on Thursday there has been “movement but no breakthrough” in efforts to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. The official said the US has urged Russia to make “a serious counter-offer” to the proposal on the table to secure the release of the two, but “we have not received any serious response back”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday that “talks have taken place with the Russian government”, but acknowledged that the negotiation process “certainly has not progressed at the speed we would like”. He said he wouldn’t call the process “stalled.”

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The White House meetings come after CNN first reported earlier this week that former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and his team were in Moscow meeting with Russian leaders.

The details surrounding those meetings were not immediately clear. Richardson and his eponymous center work privately on behalf of families of hostages and prisoners.

Biden administration officials have repeatedly expressed concern that attempts by private individuals to make deals to repatriate wrongly detained Americans could hinder the U.S. government’s ongoing efforts to bring them home.

Since taking office, Biden has met with the families of other Americans detained abroad.

In May, the president met the family of Austin Tice, an American journalist who was detained at a checkpoint near Damascus in August 2012.

Biden also met Trevor Reed’s family in March. Reed, a US citizen and former Marine detained in Russia since 2019, was released in April and repatriated to the US as part of a prisoner swap.

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