US President Joe Biden has met with the families of basketball star Brittney Griner and former marine Paul Whelan, amid ongoing efforts in Washington to secure two American citizens’ release from detention in Russia.
Biden sat down in the Oval Office on Friday with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Griner, and Elizabeth Whelan, the ex-marine’s sister.
The meetings began shortly before 5pm (21:00 GMT), the White House said.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said earlier this week that Biden hoped the face-to-face talks will show the families “that they remain front of mind” for the United States administration.
“While I would love to say that the purpose of this meeting is to inform the families that the Russians have accepted our offer and we are bringing their loved-ones home, that is not what we’re seeing in these negotiations at this time,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.
Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and two-time Olympic gold medallist, was sentenced to nine years in jail last month over drug charges.
She was arrested in February, days before Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and her case has moved through the Russian court system amid frayed relations between Moscow and Washington over the war.
Whelan, a Marine veteran, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges.
The US State Department has called the detention of both US citizens unjustified.
Earlier on Friday, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said negotiations with Moscow to secure the two Americans’ release are ongoing.
“The president felt it was important to continue the dialogue with the family members … We have stayed in touch with them throughout; we have kept them informed throughout,” John Kirby told reporters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July that Washington made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow to free Griner and Whelan.
Several US media outlets reported around that time that the Biden administration offered a prisoner exchange involving a Russian arms dealer detained in the US.