Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan’s families meet with Biden to discuss return to United States

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The White House said Friday that President Biden began meeting with family members of Brittany Griner and Paul Whelan to discuss their continued commitment to getting them back home safely.

Griner’s wife Cherrell, his agent Lindsay Kolas, Whelan’s sister Elizabeth and Jake Sullivan, the president’s assistant for national security affairs, were attending the meeting, which began at 4:51 p.m.

“The primary goal of today’s meetings is to update the families and make them fully aware of where we are in this process and to make it clear to them what a priority this is for President Biden and his entire team. They are home. Today That’s the focus for it,” National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said on Friday.

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WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittany Griner enters the cage in a courtroom before a hearing in Khimki on August 4, 2022, just outside Moscow, Russia.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

Meetings with Griner’s family and Whelan were to take place separately. It marks the first personal encounter between the Biden administration and the families.

In February, Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for bringing vape cartridges containing hemp oil through a Moscow airport. Whelan was convicted of espionage charges he says are liars and is serving a 16-year sentence.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the Biden administration made a “substantial offer” to Russia to back Griner and Whelan in late July. However, according to US officials, Russia has still not responded to the offer.

Brittany Griner is escorted by police before a trial in Russia.

Brittany Griner is escorted by police before a trial in Russia.
(Getty Images)

“But that doesn’t mean we’re still not in talks,” Kirby said.

Kirby on Friday expressed surprise that Russia had not responded.

Russia Has Not Responded to US Offer Regarding Brittany Griner’s Release of Paul Whelan, Says Biden Administration

“We made a serious offer. We want them to take it explicitly. These two men should stay at home anyway,” Kirby said. “But we understand that it will probably be the result of a process of negotiation, one that we are willing to participate honestly and fully, and we are doing that. And we look forward to them taking that offer. The table is on.”

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands inside the cage of a defendant as he awaits his verdict in Moscow, June 15, 2020.

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands inside the cage of a defendant as he awaits his verdict in Moscow, June 15, 2020.
(Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

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“The president is not going to give up,” Kirby said on Friday.

It is not clear whether the meetings are still going on.

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