WASHINGTON — 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, senior administration officials told The Associated Press.
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 that a breakthrough is imminent.
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.
FILE – Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020. President Joe Biden plans to meet at the White House on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, both of whom remain jailed in Russia, senior administration officials told The Associated Press. (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency photo via AP, File)
Friday’s meetings, which both families have long sought, are intended to underscore the administration’s commitment to bringing home Griner, Whelan and other Americans jailed abroad, as well as to “connect with them on a human level as they undergo an ordeal that the Russian government has imposed on them,” said one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as the meetings had not yet been publicly announced.
Negotiations have been complicated by the tense relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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, the administration has followed up in multiple ways to press its offer and get serious negotiations underway, one of the administration officials said Thursday.
The Russians, who have indicated that they are open to …read more
Source:: The Mercury News