Biden meets the Griner and Whelan families at the White House | Political news

The families are pushing the United States to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Russia.

US President Joe Biden has met with the families of basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, as part of ongoing efforts in Washington to secure the release of two US citizens detained in Russia.

Biden sat in the Oval Office on Friday with Cherelle Griner, Griner’s wife, and Elizabeth Whelan, the ex-Navy’s sister.

The meetings began shortly before 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), the White House said.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said earlier this week that Biden hoped the face-to-face talks would show the families “that they remain top of mind” for the US administration.

“Although I would like to say that the purpose of this meeting is to inform the families that the Russians have accepted our offer and that we are bringing their loved ones home, that is not what we see in these negotiations at this time. moment,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Griner, a member of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced to nine years in prison last month for drug trafficking.

She was arrested in February, days before Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and her case went through the Russian court system amid frayed relations between Moscow and Washington during the war.

Whelan, a Navy veteran, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 for espionage.

The US State Department has called the detention of the two US citizens unwarranted.

Earlier on Friday, a White House National Security Council spokesman said negotiations with Moscow to secure the release of the two Americans were underway.

“The President felt it was important to continue the dialogue with the family members… We stayed in touch with them throughout; we kept them informed throughout,” John Kirby told reporters.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to Moscow to free Griner and Whelan.

Several American media outlets reported at the time that the Biden administration had proposed a prisoner swap involving a Russian arms dealer held in the United States.

On Friday, Kirby told reporters that Russia hadn’t responded to that offer, “but that doesn’t mean we’re not in negotiations yet or we’re not trying yet.”

Moscow said last month it was “ready” to discuss a prisoner swap deal with Washington.

Meanwhile, Griner’s relatives, teammates and supporters have called on the US government to throw its full weight behind the case to push for his release.

Griner was accused of smuggling vape canisters containing cannabis oil into Russia, where she was to play for a basketball team in Yekaterinburg.

Despite deteriorating ties between Washington and Moscow, Russia released Trevor Reed, a former US Marine, in April. In exchange, the United States released Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving a 20-year sentence in the United States for drug trafficking.

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