Biden meets with families of Britney Greiner and Paul Whelan amid US-Russia talks

Washington — President Biden plans to meet at the White House on Friday with family members of WNBA star Britney Greiner and Michigan Executive Director of Corporate Security Paul Whelan, both of whom remain imprisoned in Russia, said White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre.

The separate meetings are set to be the first in-person meeting between Biden and the families, and take place amid a sustained but so far unsuccessful effort by the administration to secure the Americans’ release. The administration said in July it had made a “substantial proposal” to bring them home, but that despite plans for meetings at the White House, there was no sign that a breakthrough was imminent.

“President Biden will have meetings at the White House with Britney Grenier’s wife, Sheryl Greiner, and Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, to discuss his continued commitment to bringing members of their families home safely,” Jean-Pierre said at a White House news conference. . “As we said before, we believe that Russia is wrongly holding Britney and Paul under intolerable conditions. As you know, we have communicated directly with the Russian government through the appropriate channels.”

Greiner has been held in Russia since February on drug charges. she was Rule Last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty and resume punishment. Whelan serves a 16 years on me Espionage charges Which he and his family say is a lie. Both are considered by the US government to be illegal detainees, and their case is brought before the office of the chief hostage negotiator.

The negotiations were complicated by the strained relations between Washington and Moscow over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, took the unusual step of announcing two months ago that the administration would do so Make a substantial suggestion to Russia. Since then, the management has pursued in many ways Click to view it One administration official said Thursday that serious negotiations were underway.

The official, who declined to go into details, said the Russians, who indicated that they were open to negotiations but directed the Americans to conduct them privately, came back with proposals that are not within the administration’s ability to make. But the United States has been following through the same channels that produced the prisoner exchange in April that brought in Marine veteran Trevor Reid. home from RussiaThe official said.

The department did not provide details about its proposal, but a person familiar with the matter previously confirmed that he had offered to release him Victor PotA convicted Russian arms dealer, now imprisoned in the United States. It is also possible, for the sake of symmetry, that Russia will insist on the release of two of its citizens from prison.

Mr. Biden Talk on the phone In July with Greiner’s wife, Cheryl, and with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, but the two families also requested an in-person interview. On Friday, Biden plans to speak at the White House with Sheryl Greiner and with the player’s agent in one meeting and with Elizabeth Whelan in the other.

Meetings are held separately to ensure that each family has a special time with the boss. But the fact that they happened on the same day shows how intertwined the two cases are because the only deal that’s supposedly palatable to the United States is one that gets the Americans – a famous WNBA player and a Michigan man who was even little known to the public lately – home together at the same time,

In the past several months, representatives of both families have expressed frustration over what they see as a lack of aggressive action and coordination from the management.

Sheryl Greiner, for example, told The Associated Press in an interview in June that she was dismayed after a phone call from his wife that was supposed to be rectified by the US Embassy in Moscow failed, leaving the couple unable to contact. Fourth anniversary.

Whelan’s relatives sought to draw attention to his cause, fearing he might have eclipsed it in the public eye by focusing on the more famous Greiner – two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA star. They also expressed disappointment when Whelan, despite being held in Russia since December 2018, was not included in last April’s prisoner exchange that repatriated another detained American, veteran Navy SEAL Trevor Reid.

Friday’s meeting was scheduled ahead of this week’s news of a disconnected trip to Russia by Bill Richardson, the former US ambassador to the United Nations who was a veteran envoy on hostage and detainee issues. Administration officials have reacted tepid to that trip, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying on Wednesday that dialogue with Russia outside the “existing channel” threatens to derail efforts to repatriate Greiner and Whelan.

Administration officials say work on the hostage and detainee cases continues regardless of whether the family receives a meeting with the president, though there is also no doubt that such an encounter could help establish contact. Mr. Biden Met in the Oval Office In March with Reed’s parents after the Texas couple posed with a large banner outside the White House calling for their son’s release.

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