Biden meets families of Russian detainees Griner, Whelan

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WASHINGTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden met on Friday with the families of two Americans detained by Russia and personally reassured them that he was working to secure the detainees’ freedom.

Biden sat in the Oval Office with Cherelle Griner, wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, and Elizabeth Whelan, sister of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

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

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

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan joined Biden in 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 for drug trafficking on August 4, a verdict Biden called “unacceptable.”

The United States said in late July that it had made 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 over a possible prisoner swap that could include Griner and Whelan. Read more

But there have been few public developments on the matter in recent weeks.

Washington has offered to swap Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters. Read more

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

Whelan, who holds US, UK, Canadian and Irish passports, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison after being convicted of espionage. He denied the charge.

Griner, who was 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 hash oil in her luggage.

Cannabis is illegal in Russia for medicinal and recreational purposes.

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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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