Biden meets relatives of Americans jailed In Russia

Washington, Sep 16 (EFE).- President Joe Biden met the relatives of basketball player Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan at the White House on Friday, marking his first meeting with the families of the American nationals detained in Russia.

A White House press statement said “the loved ones of (the) two American citizens wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances” met separately with the president in the Oval office.

Biden met with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul’s sister, and Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife.

The meetings were “to reiterate his (Biden’s) continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”

“The president 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,” the statement said.

Hours earlier, the government said that it was still waiting for Russia to respond to its proposal to release the two US citizens.

“We have made a serious offer to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back home. The Russians have not responded to that offer. But that doesn’t mean that — that we’re not still in negotiations and we’re not still trying,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

Griner, 31, was arrested in February after customs officials at Moscow airport found a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage.

The basketball star was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court in August for drug possession and smuggling.

The Olympic and world champion, who played for UMMC Yekaterinburg during the WNBA’s off-season, has also been ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles (more than $16,000).

She has pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil into Russian territory.

“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said in her plea.

Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in 2020 on espionage charges that he denies.

The former Marine was arrested in Moscow in December 2018.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has proposed to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, the exchange of Griner and Whelan, for the so-called “merchant of death” Victor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US prison on weapons trafficking charges.

“We have put a substantial offer on the table and they should accept it,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Russia and the US recently exchanged the American student Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in prison for resisting arrest, for the Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, sentenced in the US to 20 years for drug smuggling. EFE


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