President Biden plans to meet at the White House on Friday with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, both of whom remain jailed in Russia, senior administration officials told the AP. The separate meetings are to be the first in-person encounter between Biden and the families and are taking place amid sustained but so far unsuccessful efforts by the administration to secure the Americans' release. The administration said in July that it had made a “substantial proposal” to get them home, but there is no sign that a breakthrough is imminent.
Griner has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges. She was sentenced last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty and has appealed the punishment. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges that he and his family say are false. The US government regards both as wrongfully detained, placing their cases with the office of its top hostage negotiator. However, talks have been complicated by the tense relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Russians, who have indicated that they are open to negotiations but have chided the Americans to conduct them in private, have come back with suggestions that are not within the administration's ability to deliver, said one administration official, declining to elaborate. But the US has been following up through the same channels that produced an April prisoner swap that brought Marine veteran Trevor Reed home from Russia, the official said. The administration has not provided specifics about its proposal, but a person familiar with the matter previously confirmed it had offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer now imprisoned in the US.
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