White House officials are frustrated that Russia has yet to give a substantive response to their proposed prisoner swap that would secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and jailed American Paul Whelan.
On Wednesday (July 27), a senior administration official told CNN that an offer has been on the table for “weeks” to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted arms trafficker sentenced to 25 years in U.S. prison, for Russian detainees Griner and Wheelan.
When asked about the potential deal on Thursday (July 28), Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said “So far, there is no agreement on this issue,” per CNN.
Frustration at Russia’s lack of movement on the proposal spurred the administration to publicize its offer.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a White House source said Wednesday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also confirmed on Wednesday that a “substantial proposal” was presented to the Kremlin “weeks ago” to try to secure the release of Griner and Whelan, who are both classified as wrongfully detained.
Blinken said he expects a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week to discuss the potential deal in hopes of advancing “the efforts to bring them home.”
A White House official noted the difficulties of freeing detained Americans.
“We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side. We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip,” the senior official said.
“So in some ways, it’s not surprising, even if it’s disheartening, when those same actors don’t necessarily respond directly to our offers, don’t engage constructively in negotiations,” they said.
As negotiations remain on the table, Griner testified in a Russian courtroom on Wednesday as a part of her ongoing drug trial.
It is understood that her trial has to come to a conclusion before negotiations can be finalized, according to U.S. officials familiar with the issue.
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