Biden Meets Families of Russian-Held Detainees Griner, Whelan

Biden Meets Families of Russian-Held Detainees Griner, Whelan
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WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden met on Friday with families of two Americans being held by Russia, and personally reassured them he is working to gain freedom for the detainees.

Biden sat down in the Oval Office with Cherelle Griner, partner of women’s basketball player Brittney Griner, and Elizabeth Whelan, sister of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

Biden conducted the separate meetings to assure the families that the detainees “are at front of mind,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“We’re going to continue to do everything that we can, working tirelessly every day, to make sure that we get them , home,” she told reporters.

Biden “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,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement after the meetings.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan joined Biden at the meetings, the White House said.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on drug charges on Aug. 4, a verdict that Biden called “unacceptable.”

Basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, sits inside a defendants’ cage after the court’s verdict in Khimki outside Moscow on Aug. 4, 2022. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

The United States in late July said it has put forward a “substantial offer” to secure the release of the two Americans.

Last month, Russia’s foreign ministry said it was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with the United States about a potential prisoner swap that could include Griner and Whelan.

But there have been few public developments on the issue over the past weeks.

“A substantial offer is on the table and they should accept it,” said Jean-Pierre.

Whelan, who holds American, British, Canadian, and Irish passports, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in jail after being convicted of spying. He denied the charge.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of spying and arrested in Russia, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on Aug. 23, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Griner, who had been prescribed medical cannabis in the United States to relieve pain from chronic injuries, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland

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