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Biden meets with families of Russian detainees Griner, Whelan According to Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to the media before boarding Air Force One as he departs for Washington from New Castle, Delaware, U.S., September 11, 2022. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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By Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Friday met with the families of two Americans detained by Russia, and personally reassured them that he was working to free those detained.

Biden sat down in the Oval Office with Cherelle Griner, wife of female basketball star Brittney Griner, and Elizabeth Whelan, sister of former US Marine Paul Whelan.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had held separate meetings to assure the family that the detainees were “on their minds”.

“We’re going to keep doing everything we can, working tirelessly every day, to make sure we get them home,” she told reporters.

Biden “appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who loved them most, and acknowledged that every minute they were kept was a minute too long,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement after the meeting.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan joined Biden at the meetings, the White House said.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on drug charges on Aug. called “unacceptable”.

The United States in late July said it had made an “important offer” to secure the release of the two Americans.

Last month, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had engaged in “silent diplomacy” with the United States over a potential prisoner swap that could include Griner and Whelan.

But there has been little public movement on the matter in recent weeks.

Washington has offered to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

“A substantial offer is on the table and they should accept it,” says Jean-Pierre.

Whelan, who holds US, British, Canadian and Irish passports, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 after being found guilty of espionage. He denied the allegation.

Griner, who had been prescribed medical marijuana in the United States for pain from chronic injuries, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February with a vape box containing hashish oil in her luggage.

Marijuana is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

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