Live Updates: Russia’s War in Ukraine
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said President Joe Biden was “directly involved” and endorsed the “substantial proposal” presented to Moscow to try to secure the release of US detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
As CNN first reported, the US government offered to trade convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout as part of the deal.
Blinken did not directly confirm that Bout was part of the deal, saying he “can’t and won’t go into detail about what we’ve offered the Russians for so many weeks now.”
He added, “as far as the president is concerned, of course he was not only directly involved, he endorses any proposal that we make, and certainly when it comes to Americans who are arbitrarily detained overseas. , including in this specific case”.
Presidential approval is required for any prisoner exchange and overrides Justice Department objections.
The top US diplomat plans to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the coming days and told a press conference on Wednesday that his “hope would be that by talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov I could move forward efforts to bring them home. .”
“In my mind, it is useful to send clear and direct messages to the Russians on our main priorities. And as I mentioned, that includes getting Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back home,” he said.
“We pass judgment in every instance where we believe our diplomacy can hopefully advance our interests and values, including direct engagement,” Blinken continued.
“We judge when it makes sense to talk about it in public, and as a general rule I believe in as much transparency as possible. And sometimes we judge that we are going to keep the conversations quiet. So in this case, I thought it was important to clarify that on these issues, the detention of our American citizens, the food prices the world is facing due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the plans Russia now has to pursue the annexation of Ukrainian territory, which our Russian counterparts are hearing directly from me,” he said.
The families of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner were told by a senior administration official ahead of Secretary Blinken’s announcement that a ‘substantial proposal’ had been put on the table to secure their release from Russia, an official says . Officials will speak to their families today and tomorrow as well.
National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby told CNN on Wednesday that the Biden administration made “a substantial offer” weeks ago, adding that “the offer has been made, and we certainly hope that Russia will agree to it, but I am not doing it”. want to go into more detail about it.
Kirby told reporters at the White House press conference that Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Josh Geltzer spoke earlier in the day with the Griner and Whelan families ahead of Blinken’s announcement of the proposed exchange of prisoners.
Pressed on Wednesday on whether, absent a favorable commitment from Russia, the president’s national security team thinks Biden might have to make the offer directly, Kirby told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins “I think we’re indicating make it clear to the entire national security team that we’re serious about securing this release – I have no conversations to discuss, or announcements on behalf of the president. This is a serious proposal and we want the Russians to take it seriously too.
He stressed that the administration was unwilling to provide further details on the proposed prisoner exchange, telling reporters, “I’m sure you can all understand that it won’t help us get them home in negotiating in public with all of you, so I won’t go into more detail, but I will say that the president and his team are prepared to take extraordinary measures to bring our people home, as we have demonstrated with Trevor Reed, and that’s what we’re doing right here, it’s happening actively now.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and DJ Judd contributed to this post.