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

The Biden administration faces growing calls to do more to bring home Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
/ Source: NBC News

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

The revelation came during a press briefing, with Blinken laying out his plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days.

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

Blinken’s remarks come as the Biden administration faces growing calls to do more to secure the release of the two Americans who U.S. officials say have been wrongfully detained.

“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 added.

He said it would be the first time he’s spoken with his Russian counterpart since the war in Ukraine erupted in February.

A senior administration official told NBC News that a high-level U.S. official reached out to the families of both Whelan who was detained by Russia in 2018, and Griner who detained in February, ahead of Blinken’s remarks Wednesday. The high-level official will be having conversations with the families on Wednesday and Thursday, the source said.

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

On Wednesday, Griner testified in a Russian court that she did not intend to break the law.

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

Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, stands in a cage as he waits for a hearing in a courtroom in Moscow 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 see every American who is wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad released, including Brittney Griner.”

“Months ago, he directed his national security team to pursue every avenue to bring Brittney home safely to her family, friends, and loved ones,” Watson added. “The U.S. government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue, to make that happen.