Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan’s families to meet with Biden as Americans remain in Russian jail
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President Biden will meet with the families of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan at the White House Friday as the two Americans remain jailed in Russia.
The planned meetings will mark the first in-person encounter between Biden and the families and will be held separately.
Griner was arrested and later convicted of bringing vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis through a Moscow airport in February. Whelan was convicted on espionage charges.
Griner is serving a nine-year sentence and Whelan a 16-year sentence.
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“He wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day on making sure that Brittney and Paul return home safely,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Thursday’s press briefing.
“While I would love to say that the purpose of this meeting is to inform the families that the Russians have accepted our offer, and we are bringing their loved ones home — that is not what we're seeing in these negotiations at this time. … The Russians should accept our offer. The Russians should accept our offer today.”
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At the end of July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the Biden administration had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to facilitate the return of Griner and Whelan.
A senior Biden administration official told The Associated Press that, since Blinken’s announcement, U.S. officials have been working through the same channel that helped facilitate the release of jailed U.S. Marine Trevor Reed. The Russians have reportedly come back with suggestions that are not within the administration’s ability to deliver.
Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer, has been one of the names supposedly on Russia’s wish list.
Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a prominent figure in previous hostage negotiations, traveled to Moscow this week and met with Russian leadership amid efforts to negotiate the release of Griner, according to reports.
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A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press Tuesday that Richardson held meetings with Russian leaders months after getting involved in Griner’s case.
Fox News Paulina Dedaj and the Associated Press contributed to this report.