President Joe Biden is planning to meet with the families of Russian detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan on Friday (September 16) amid efforts to secure their release, senior White House officials told AP News.
Both meetings, which will be held separately, mark the first in-person interactions between Biden and the families of Griner and Whelan, both of whom have long sought face-to-face conversations with the President and expressed frustration over the administration's alleged lack of aggressive action to bring them home.
Griner's wife, Cherelle, and the WNBA star's agent are set to attend of one the meetings at the White House, and Whelan's sister, Elizabeth will reportedly be present for the other.
According to a White House source, Biden aims to connect with the families "on a human level as they undergo an ordeal that the Russian government has imposed on them." The in-person meetings also intend to highlight the administration's commitment to freeing Griner and Whelan.
Griner was first detained in February after Russian authorities allegedly found cannabis in her bag at a Moscow airport. After pleading guilty to drug charges, the Phoenix Mercury guard was sentenced to nine years in prison last month.
Whelan, who is also considered "wrongfully detained" by the U.S. government, is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia on espionage charges.
In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the White House had made a substantial proposal to Russia in an effort to free Griner and Whelan.
A White House official said Thursday (September 15) that the administration has followed up on the offer in multiple ways as negotiations appear to be stagnant.
Russian officials have indicated that they are willing to make a deal but have come back with suggestions that the administration is not able to deliver on, the official said, per AP News.
According to reports, the families of Griner and Whelan are meeting separately Friday to make sure each has a dedicated timeslot with the President.
However, the meetings occurring on the same day show how the two cases have become intertwined as the administration seems to only be willing to accept an offer that brings both Americans home, AP reports.
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