Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the Biden administration had made a “substantial” offer to Russia to facilitate the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and CEO Paul Whelan.
The revelation came during a press conference where Blinken outlined his plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the coming days.
“We put a substantive proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken said, declining to divulge further details about the proposal.
Blinken’s comments come at a time when there are increasing calls for the Biden administration to do more to secure the release of the two Americans, who US officials say were wrongfully arrested.
“Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly about this proposal and I will use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope to move us towards a solution,” Blinken added.
He said it was the first time he had spoken to his Russian counterpart since war broke out in Ukraine in February.
A senior administration official told NBC News that a senior US official reached out to the families of Whelan, who was arrested by Russia in 2018, and Griner, who was arrested in February, ahead of Blinken’s comments on Wednesday. The senior official will hold talks with the families on Wednesday and Thursday, the source said.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, was asked about the timing of Blinken’s announcement during a White House briefing later Wednesday.
“We think that the clarification that an actual proposal is being made, that something tangible is on the table, is an important context for the world to learn about the seriousness with which the United States will seek to impress our citizens.” bring home.” Kirby said.
On Tuesday, NBC News published and aired an interview with Trevor Reed, a former US Marine who was released from a Russian prison earlier this year, who said the White House was “not doing enough” to get Griner and Whelan released reach.
Griner, 31, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said she had vape canisters containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia, in her luggage. Earlier this month, she pleaded guilty.
Griner testified in a Russian court on Wednesday that she had no intention of breaking the law.
Whelan was convicted of espionage by a Russian court about two years ago. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Adrienne Watson, a White House spokeswoman, told NBC News earlier this week that President Joe Biden “it was clear that every American wrongly arrested or held hostage abroad, including Brittney Griner,” must be released.
“Months ago, he directed his national security team to investigate all avenues to bring Brittney home safely to her family, friends and loved ones,” Watson added.
Peter Alexander contributed.
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/us-made-substantial-proposal-russia-release-griner-whelan-blinken-says-rcna40322 The US made a “material proposal” to Russia for the release of Griner and Whelan, Blinken says