US President Joe Biden met with Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Brittney Griner’s family and the family of another American held captive in Russia, Paul Whelan, on Friday – the first time the president had spoken to them in person.
After the separate meetings, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden made sure to emphasise to the families his “continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely”.
“He asked after the well-being of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time,” Jean-Pierre stated.
“The president appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long.”
Accusations of drug use have kept Griner detained in Russia since February.
She pleaded guilty and was given a nine-year prison sentence last month, yet has since appealed the sentence. Whelan is currently serving a 16-year sentence for charges related to espionage that he and his family claim are untrue. Both individuals have cases filed with the office of the US government’s top hostage negotiator because the US government believes they were both wrongfully detained.
Two months ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the unusual move of declaring that the administration had made a significant proposal to Russia. He did not go into further detail, but a source with knowledge of the situation said the US had offered to free convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Last April, the administration carried out a prisoner swap in which Moscow freed Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for the US freeing a Russian pilot named Konstantin Yaroshenko who had been found guilty of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy.
Both meetings were attended by Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security advisor. Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister, and President Biden, had a conversation. The president then had a meeting with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, and Lindsay Colas, the player’s agent, according to the White House.
In a statement provided to the Guardian by Brittney Griner’s representatives, Cherelle Griner expressed her gratitude to the American President.
“I want to thank President Biden for today’s meeting,” the statement read. “It was an honor to speak with him directly about the Brittney we know and love, and to thank him for the Administration’s efforts to secure her release. I’ve felt every minute of the grueling seven months without her. I look forward to the day my wife is back home.”
“As my family and I continue on this journey, I’d like to thank the broad coalition of friends, leaders and supporters who continue to stand with us and advocate for Brittney’s swift and safe return. Let’s share a unified commitment to bringing all Americans home to their families and loved ones.”
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