- President Biden told the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan that he is committed to bringing them home.
President Joe Biden met with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan on Friday and reaffirmed his commitment to pursuing all available avenues to bring their loved ones home from Russia, where they are imprisoned. .
“The president welcomed the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and recognized that every minute they are held is a minute too long,” the White House said in a statement Friday night.
The meetings with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, which were held separately, were the first in-person meetings between Biden and family members, although they spoke by phone.
The president reiterated his commitment “by all means” so that both citizens return to the US and told them that “every minute that passes is too much time.”
Hours earlier, the government had explained that it is still waiting for Russia to respond to its proposal to release the two Americans.
“We have made a serious proposal to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back home. The Russians have not yet responded, but that does not mean that we are not still negotiating or that we are not still trying,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters.
Griner, a player in the WNBA, the American women’s basketball league, has been detained in Russia since last February for drug possession and smuggling.
The world and Olympic champion with her country was sentenced to nine years in prison on August 4 by a Russian court.
The American, who was a member of the Russian UMMC team in Yekaterinburg at the time of her arrest, pleaded guilty to introducing cannabis oil into Russian territory, although she argued that she did not do so with malicious intent.
For her part, Whelan, a former Marine arrested in Moscow in December 2018, is sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage.
The Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, has proposed to his Russian colleague, Sergey Lavrov, the exchange of Griner and Whelan for the “merchant of death” Victor But, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a prison American.
“The Russians should accept this offer. We have put a substantial offer on the table and they should accept it,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.