The White House says President Joe Biden on September 16 will meet with family members of U.S. women’s basketball star Brittney Griner and fellow U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who have been imprisoned in Russia.
The meetings are intended to underscore the administration’s commitment to securing the release of the two Americans and others jailed abroad, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Biden “wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. But she cautioned that there was no good news to pass along to the relatives on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones.
The U.S. government says Russia has wrongfully detained Griner and Whelan and has assigned their cases to the office of its top hostage negotiator.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken two months ago announced that the administration had made a substantial proposal to Russia.
The meetings at the White House on September 16 will be the first in-person encounter between Biden and the families of Griner and Whelan.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women’s National Basketball Association player, has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges. She was sentenced last month to nine years in prison, a verdict that Biden called “unacceptable.”
Whelan was convicted of spying in 2020 is serving a 16-year sentence. The former U.S. Marine and corporate security executive and his family say the charges against him are false.
Biden spoke by phone in July with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth. On September 16, Biden plans to speak with Cherelle Griner and the player’s agent in one meeting and with Elizabeth Whelan in the other.
The Russians have indicated that they are open to negotiations but have also said it would be more appropriate to keep the talks private. Negotiations have been complicated by the tense relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
News reports quoting U.S. sources have said the Russian would swap Griner and Whelan for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who currently is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Based on reporting by AFP and AP