The U.S. has offered a deal to Russia to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and jailed American Paul Whelan.
According to CNN, the Biden administration has sought to strike a deal with Russia to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer currently serving a 25-year U.S. prison sentence, for Griner and Wheelan.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official told CNN on Wednesday (July 27). “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.”
The White House official didn’t comment on the details of the “substantial offer” but said it was in Russia’s “court to be responsive to it, yet at the same time that does not leave us passive, as we continue to communicate the offer at very senior levels.”
“It takes two to tango. 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 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.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also confirmed on Wednesday that the administration proposed a “substantial” deal to Moscow “weeks ago.”
News of the proposal comes after a months-long internal debate between U.S. agencies, CNN reports.
The Department of Justice typically opposes prisoner trades arguing that it incentivizes countries to detain Americans in order to later employ them as bargaining chips.
However, the DOJ eventually accepted the Bout swap after it was backed by top White House and State Department officials including President Joe Biden himself, according to reports.
Whelan, who has been held in Russian custody for alleged espionage since 2018, and Griner, held in Russia detention on drug charges since February 17, have both been classified as “wrongfully detained.”
Their families have urged the Biden Administration to secure their release including via a prisoner swap if necessary.
This is a developing story and will be updated.