Joe Biden plans to meet at the White House on Friday with members of the WNBA star’s family Britney Greiner and Michigan’s executive director of corporate security, Paul Whelan, both of whom remain imprisoned in Russia, senior administration officials told The Associated Press.
The separate meetings are set to be the first in-person meeting between Biden and the families, and take place amid sustained but so far unsuccessful efforts by the administration. to secure the release of the Americans. The administration said in July that it He made a “substantial proposal” to bring them homeBut despite plans for meetings at the White House, there is no indication that a breakthrough is imminent.
Biden plans to speak at the White House with Greiner’s wife, Cheryl, and with the player’s agent in one encounter and with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, in another.
Greiner has been held in Russia since February on drug charges. She was sentenced last month To nine years in prison after pleading guilty and appealing the sentence. Whelan is serving a 16-year prison sentence on espionage charges that he and his family say are false.
Both are considered by the US government to be illegal detainees, and their case is brought before the office of the chief hostage negotiator.
Friday’s meetings, long sought by both families, are meant to underscore the administration’s commitment to repatriating Greiner, Whelan and other Americans imprisoned abroad, as well as “to reach out to them on a humanitarian level as they go through the plight of the Russian government,” an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. His identity is because the meetings have not been publicly announced.”
The negotiations were complicated by the strained relations between Washington and Moscow over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Anthony Blinken, the secretary of state, took the unusual step of announcing two months ago that the administration had made a substantive offer to Russia. An administration official said Thursday that the administration has since pursued in multiple ways to press its offer and begin serious negotiations.
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 official said the United States is following through the same channels that produced the April prisoner exchange that repatriated Marine veteran Trevor Reid from Russia.
The administration did not provide details of its proposal, but a person familiar with the matter previously confirmed that it had offered to release the convicted Viktor Bout. Russian arms dealer now imprisoned in the US. It is also possible, for the sake of symmetry, that Russia will insist on the release of two of its citizens from prison.
Biden spoke by phone in July with Sheryl Greiner and Elizabeth Whelan, but both families also requested in-person meetings.
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 situations are since the only deal that is supposedly palatable to the United States is one that brings Americans 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 told the Associated Press in June that she was dismayed after a phone call from his wife that was supposed to be corrected by the US Embassy in Moscow failed, leaving the couple unable to call on their fourth anniversary.
Whelan’s relatives sought to draw attention to his case, worried that the focus on Greiner, a two- and seven-time Olympic gold medalist, had overshadowed her. WNBA all Stars. They also expressed disappointment when Whelan was not included in the prisoner exchange deal that brought Reid home, despite being held in Russia since December 2018.
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 bring Greiner and Whelan home.
Administration officials say work on the hostage and detainee cases continues regardless of whether the family receives a meeting with the president, although there is no doubt that such an encounter can help establish a connection. Biden met in the Oval Office in March with Reade’s parents after the Texas couple stood with a large banner outside the White House calling for their son’s release.