NATIONAL NEWS

Griner, Whelan families to meet Biden amid US-Russia talks

Sep 15, 2022, 3:39 PM
The video board displays past interviews with Brittney Griner during a rally to support the release...
The video board displays past interviews with Brittney Griner during a rally to support the release of detained American professional athlete Brittney Griner at Footprint Center on July 06, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. WNBA star and Phoenix Mercury athlete Brittney Griner was detained on February 17 at a Moscow-area airport after cannabis oil was allegedly found in her luggage. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden plans to meet at the White House on Friday with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, both of whom remain jailed in Russia, the White House announced Thursday.

“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 at the White House.

The separate meetings are to be the first in-person encounter between Biden and the families and are taking place amid sustained but so far unsuccessful efforts by the administration to secure the Americans’ release. The administration said in July that it had made a “substantial proposal” to get them home, but despite plans for the White House meetings, there is no sign a breakthrough is imminent.

“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,” Jean-Pierre said.

She added: “The Russians should accept our offer. The Russians should accept our offer today.”

Griner has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges. She was sentenced last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty and has appealed the punishment. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges that he and his family say are false. The U.S. government regards both as wrongfully detained, placing their cases with the office of its top hostage negotiator.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of announcing two months ago that the administration had made a substantial proposal to Russia. Since then, U.S officials have continued to press that offer in hopes of getting serious negotiations underway, and have been following up through the same channel that produced an April prisoner swap that brought Marine veteran Trevor Reed home from Russia, said a senior administration official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in advance of Thursday’s formal announcement.

The negotiations, already strained because of tense relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have also been complicated by Russia’s apparent resistance to the proposal the Americans put on the table.

The Russians, who have indicated that they are open to negotiations but have chided the Americans to conduct them in private, have come back with suggestions that are not within the administration’s ability to deliver, said the administration official, declining to elaborate.

The administration has not provided specifics about its proposal, but a person familiar with the matter previously confirmed it had offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer who is imprisoned in the U.S. and who has long been sought by Moscow. It is also possible that, in the interests of symmetry, Russia might insist on having two of its citizens released from prison.

Biden spoke by phone in July with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, but both families have also requested in-person meetings. On Friday, Biden plans to speak at the White House with Cherelle Griner and with the player’s agent in one meeting and with Elizabeth Whelan in the other, according to the official.

The meetings are being done separately so as to ensure that each family has private time with the president. But the fact that they are happening on the same day shows the extent to which the two cases have become intertwined since the only deal that is presumably palatable to the U.S. is one that gets both Americans — a famous WNBA player and a Michigan man who until recently was little known to the public — home together at the same time,

In the past several months, representatives of both families have expressed frustration over what they perceived as a lack of aggressive action and coordination from the administration.

Cherelle Griner, for instance, told The Associated Press in an interview in June that she was dismayed after the failure of a phone call from her wife that was supposed to have been patched through by the American Embassy in Moscow left the couple unable to connect on their fourth anniversary.

Whelan’s relatives have sought to keep attention on his case, anxious that it has been overshadowed in the public eye by the focus on the far more prominent Griner — a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA all-star. They also conveyed disappointment when Whelan, despite having been held in Russia since December 2018, was not included in a prisoner swap last April that brought home Reed.

Friday’s meetings were scheduled before news broke this week of an unconnected trip to Russia by Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has been a veteran emissary in hostage and detainee cases. Administration officials reacted coolly to that trip, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Wednesday that dialogue with Russia outside the “established channel” risks hindering efforts to get Griner and Whelan home.

Administration officials say work on hostage and detainee cases persists regardless of whether a family receives a meeting with the president, though there is also no question such an encounter can help establish a meaningful connection.

Biden met in the Oval Office in March with Reed’s parents after the Texas couple stood with a large sign outside the White House calling for their son’s release. The following month, he returned home.

____

Follow Eric Tucker at http://www.twitter/com/etuckerAP

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

The Sanderson sisters' "Hocus Pocus" cottage. Kathy Najimy said that she and her costars, Bette Mid...
Emmy Abbassi, CNN

Stay in the ‘Hocus Pocus’ house for only $31

The Sanderson sisters of "Hocus Pocus" fame are inviting guests to stay at their creepy cottage in the remote woods of Salem, Massachusetts, this Halloween season.
1 day ago
UVALDE, TEXAS - JUNE 17: The Robb Elementary School sign is seen covered in flowers and gifts on Ju...
Stella Chan and Alaa Elassar, CNN

Uvalde parents have filed a federal lawsuit against gun manufacturers, and others

Uvalde parents sue gun manufacturers and other entities.
1 day ago
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 2...
Paul R. La Monica, CNN Business

Dow plunges and is back in a bear market

The third quarter is about to end and investors are wishing the past nine months good riddance. Stocks fell Thursday, giving up Wednesday's big gains. The Dow was down almost 650 points, or 2.1%, in midday trading.
1 day ago
Brenda Brennan sits next to a boat that pushed against her apartment when Hurricane Ian passed thro...
ADRIANA GOMEZ-LICON, Associated Press

Many trapped in Florida as Ian heads toward South Carolina

Rescue crews are wading through water and using boats to rescue Florida residents stranded in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
1 day ago
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a celebration of the 1990 passage of the Americans...
ZEKE MILLER and DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press

Biden to visit Florida when ‘conditions allow’ after storm

President Joe Biden says the entire United States "hurts" along with the people of Florida after Hurricane Ian flooded communities across the state.
1 day ago
Ukrainian troops ride upon a repaired Russian tank in a wooded area outside the city on September 2...
LOLITA C. BALDOR and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

US announces $1.1 billion more in military aid for Ukraine

The U.S. will provide an additional $1.1 billion in aid to Ukraine, with funding for about 18 more advanced rocket systems and other weapons to counter drones that Russia has been using against Ukrainian troops.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Griner, Whelan families to meet Biden amid US-Russia talks