President Joe Biden held meetings with family members of two Americans detained in Russia on Friday in the White House, reassuring them of his commitment to bring them safely home.
Biden met with Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of detained U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, and Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, along with Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, in two separate meetings in the Oval Office, sharing that his desire to get Griner and Whelan back on American soil is “at front of mind.”
Friday’s meetings marked the first in-person interaction between Biden and the respective families. Cherelle told CNN’s Abby Phillip that her meeting with Biden went well and it allowed her to “have confidence” in his plan. However, as Biden attempts to get Griner home, Cherelle also stated that the negotiations have been complex. “I don’t think they have quite figured out exactly what Russia wants in return for BG,” Cherelle said, per Phillip.
Biden and his team, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, previously stated in August that the United States made a “substantial” proposition for Russia in attempt to secure Griner and Whelan’s release.
However, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday that Russia has not responded to the proposal from Biden’s administration, resulting in Griner and Whelan remaining under Russian imprisonment.
The Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap in July that included Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012, and reportedly a second Russian also held in a U.S. jail.
“Sadly we don’t have a result here to tell you about but the president felt that it was important to continue the dialogue with the family members,” Kirby said, per Bloomberg. “The primary goal of the meeting today is to be able to update families and keep them completely apprised of where we are in the process.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated that a meaningful proposal has been made in the prisoner and that Russia should move forward in it. “A substantial offer is on the table, and they should accept it,” Jean-Pierre said.
The United States considers both Griner and Whelan as wrongfully detained. The Mercury star has been held in Russia since February after she was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused of having hashish oil in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charges in July.
Cherelle has been exchanging letters with Griner during her imprisonment. However, more recently, the letters have taken a different tone. “She’s not well,” Cherelle said, per Phillip. “She’s losing it.”
In August, the two-time Olympic goal medalist was convicted on drug charges and given a nine-year prison sentence. Since then, Griner’s legal team issued an appeal of her sentencing, although there have not been any recent developments regarding the appeal. Whelan is currently serving a 16-year sentence on spying-related charges that he and his family say are false.
More WNBA Coverage: