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US made ‘substantial proposal’ to Russia for release of Griner and Whelan, says Blinken

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the Biden administration has made a “substantial” offer to Russia to facilitate the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and corporate executive Paul Whelan.

The revelation came during a press conference, during which Blinken outlined his plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days.

“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” said Blinken, who declined to provide further details on the proposal.

Blinken’s comments come as the Biden administration faces mounting calls to do more to secure the release of the two Americans whom US officials say have been unjustly detained.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in a cage in a courtroom on Wednesday ahead of a hearing in Khimki, Russia.Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

“Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly about that proposal and I will use the conversation to follow up personally, and I hope it will lead us to a solution,” Blinken added.

He said it would be the first time he has spoken with his Russian counterpart since the war in Ukraine broke out in February.

A senior government official told NBC News that a senior US official has contacted the families of both Whelan, who was detained by Russia in 2018, and Griner who was detained in February, ahead of Blinken’s comments 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 at a White House briefing later Wednesday about the timing of the Blinken’s announcement.

“We think making clear that an actual proposal has been made, that there is something tangible on the table, is an important context for the world to know about the seriousness of the United States with which we will try to get our citizens back home.” Kirby said.

On Tuesday, NBC News published and broadcast an interview with Trevor Reed, a former US Marine released this year from a Russian prison, who said the White House was “not doing enough” to secure the release of Griner and Whelan.

Griner, 31, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape cans of cannabis oil in her luggage, which is banned in Russia. She pleaded guilty earlier this month.

Griner testified in a Russian court on Wednesday that she had no intention of breaking the law.

Whelan was convicted by a Russian court about two years ago on charges of espionage. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Paul Whelan
Former United States Marine Paul Whelan stands in a cage as he awaits a hearing in a Moscow courtroom on Aug. 23, 2019.Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP file

Adrienne Watson, a White House spokesperson, told NBC News earlier this week that President Joe Biden “has been clear about the need to release any American wrongfully held or held hostage abroad, including Brittney Griner.”

“Months ago, he instructed his national security team to follow every avenue to bring Brittney home safely to her family, friends and loved ones,” Watson added. “The US government continues to work aggressively and is pursuing every avenue to make that possible.”

Peter Alexander contributed.

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