Politics Blinken to discuss proposal to free Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner with Russian counterpart
Brittney Griner Appears in Court Tuesday, Expert Testifies Medicinal Uses of Cannabis
The WNBA star is expected to testify WednesdayBrittney Griner appeared in court Tuesday as her legal team shared supporting evidence about the medicinal use of cannabis.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. has made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken said in remarks at the State Department. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope move us toward a resolution.”
Blinken said he plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days and will bring up the proposal to free both Americans, who the U.S. says have been wrongfully detained by Moscow. The conversation will be the first time that the two have spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February.
Brittney Griner testifies in Russian court as US works to secure her release
Brittney Griner testified on Wednesday in a Russian court after the WNBA star's legal team requested more time for her to prepare. Griner, a 31-year-old Houston native who plays professional basketball for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained on Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki as she returned to Russia to play during the WNBA's offseason after she was accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and also has a right to an appeal.
Blinken repeatedly declined to divulge any details of the proposal given to the Russians, but CNN isthat the administration has offered to swap convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Whelan and Griner.
“I can’t and won’t get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians,” Blinken told reporters when asked about that report on Wednesday.
Blinken said that the proposal had been raised directly with Russian officials “on a number of occasions” but would not characterize their response to it.
“My hope would be in speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I can advance the efforts to bring them home,” Blinken said.
Video: Blinken: ‘Substantial proposal’ made to Russia for release of Britney Griner and Paul Whelan (MSNBC)
Why White House went public with Griner, Whelan offer as Russia says no deal yet
The Biden administration's unusual decision to publicize its offer to Russia to free Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan was made in part to reassure Americans rather than entice the Russians, White House aides said Thursday. Your browser does not support this video White House spokesman John Kirby said on "Good Morning America" that the deal the U.S. proposed for Griner and Whelan had been "set forth many weeks ago" and that the administration decided to publicize it to show Americans what President Joe Biden was doing to try to free them amid months-long scrutiny. "This isn't something that just happened ...
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also said he would not discuss specific individuals when asked about reporting that the administration offered swap outs. He stressed that the president is focused on getting Whelan and Griner home.
“We’ve made a proposal. We urge the Russians to move positively on that proposal so that we can get these two individuals home,” Kirby told reporters.
Whelan was detained in Russia in December 2018 on spying charges that he vehemently denies and has since been sentenced to 16 years in prison. Griner, a popular basketball star, was detained for bringing vape cartridges with hashish oil into Russia in February. Griner pleaded guilty earlier this month.
The Biden administration has faced pressure to secure the release of both Whelan and Griner, particularly after a prisoner swap earlier this year secured the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed from Russia but did not include the other Americans held by Moscow.
Brittney Griner back in Russian court on cannabis charge
KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — Brittney Griner was back in court on Tuesday for her trial for cannabis possession amid U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure her release. If convicted, the WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist could face 10 years in prison. As her trial has progressed, the Biden administration has faced growing public pressure to get her released. In an extraordinary move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.
President Biden, who Blinken said signed off on the proposal to the Russians, recently spoke with Griner’s wife Cherelle and Whelan’s sister Elizabeth.
His announcement comes about a week after Bidenan executive order directing the administration to share more information with families of Americans held abroad and authorizing sanctions on those “directly or indirectly” involved in hostage-taking or wrongful detention of Americans.
Blinken said Wednesday that the administration is guided by two objectives of bringing Americans wrongfully detained overseas home and dissuading the practice of foreign countries jailing Americans.
Blinken also said he planned to raise the deal between Russia and Ukraine to facilitate grain exports from Ukrainian ports that was recently brokered by Turkey. A Russian strike on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa over the weekend threw the deal into doubt.
This story was updated at 4:18 p.m.
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