The Biden administration has received no response from the Kremlin about its “serious offer” to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that negotiations with Russia “are still ongoing” despite the Kremlin’s cold shoulder.
“They have not responded to our offer,” Mr. Kirby said. “We have made a serious offer to get Britney Griner and Paul Whelan back home. The Russians have not responded to that offer. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not still in negotiations and we’re not still trying.”
President Biden met with the families of Mrs. Griner and Mr. Whelan at the White House on Friday, reaffirming his commitment to bringing the two prisoners home. It was the first time he had met with the families since the U.S. citizens were detained in Russia.
“The president appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them the most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said she trusted Mr. Biden to get Brittney back in the U.S.
“It wasn’t a meeting where the president told me the news that I want to hear. It wasn’t that, but it was one of those pivotal meetings where … it allowed me to have confidence in what he’s doing right now,” she told CNN.
Paul Whelan‘s brother, David, reasserted that sentiment, saying it “means a lot” for the president to reaffirm his commitment to getting the prisoners out.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in late July that the administration had made an offer to secure the release of both Americans, whom the administration says are being wrongly detained by Moscow, though offered few specifics.
CNN later reported that the Biden administration offered to exchange convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for the two Americans. Bout is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. after being convicted in 2011.
Mr. Blinken’s comments marked the first time the U.S. government had revealed actions it was taking to secure Mrs. Griner’s release after she was arrested on drug-related charges at the Moscow airport after vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis were found in her luggage.
She said the cannabis was for medical purposes and that she had not realized she had included it while packing.
A Russian court sentenced her to nine years in prison in August for smuggling drugs “with criminal intent.”
Mr. Biden called the sentence “unacceptable” and urged Moscow to release Mrs. Griner immediately.
He also pledged to “continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring home Mrs. Griner and Mr. Whelan, who was jailed by Russia in 2018 on espionage charges, “safely as soon as possible.”