White House will hold talks with Russia this week about bringing Paul Whelan home and it is the ‘top priority’ for Biden amid criticism over leaving him behind when Brittney Griner was brought home
- Security advisor Jake Sullivan said team members met with Elizabeth Whelan
- He said U.S. officials would have an ‘engagement’ with Russians
- He declined to disclose specifics
- He said Russia treated Whelan’s case differently for ‘totally illegitimate reasons’
- WNBA star was freed in swap for arms trafficker Viktor Bout
- ‘We are going to figure out a way to do it,’ Sullivan said
Senior members of the Biden administration are set to have ‘high level engagement’ with Russian counterparts as the White House hopes tries to exploit an existing channel to free U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who continues to languish in a Russian prison.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan revealed the contact Monday at the White House as the administration faces ongoing pressure about the deal that greed WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
‘We will have an engagement with them this week,’ Sullivan said of the Russians. ‘I won’t say more about it, because we’re trying to keep that in sensitive channels. But that’s the timetable.’
‘And we have had regular engagement of course along the way. The next conversation at a high level will take place this week,’ he said, without providing further details.
U.S. officials will have ‘high-level’ engagement with the Russians this week, in the latest effort to free former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan from a Russian penal colony, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said
Sullivan’s comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin left open the door to further exchanges, sayin ‘everything is possible.’
Sullivan also disclosed that U.S. officials met with Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth.
Paul Whelan told CNN hours after Griner’s release that he was ‘disappointed’ in his own situation, speaking from the Russian penal colony where he is being held.
‘I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,’ he told the network. ‘I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.’
He is serving a 16-year-sentence after being convicted of spying charges that Whelan, his family, and the U.S. call bogus.
‘For totally illegitimate reasons, the Russians treat Paul Whelan’s case differently. So their demands related to Paul Whelan are different from their demands from other Americans,’ he said, referencing efforts that freed American Trevor Reed.
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan spoke out about the prisoner exchange from a Russian prison, saying he is ‘disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release’ after serving four of his 16-year sentence. U.S. officials are set to engage with Russians this week, the White House said
Brittney Griner (pictured on Friday) is a WNBA star arrested in Russia in February on marijuana-related charges. She arrived back in the U.S. from Russian prison last week in a prisoner exchange that also saw the release of arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the ‘Merchant of Death’
Russian President Vladimir Putin left open the possibility of future arrangements
‘We are going to figure out a way to do it.’
Sullivan also revealed that administration members had met with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, who is among those who have called for the government to do all it can to get him out.
‘I don’t look for apologies, I look for action, and I am willing to be very plain-spoken about that,’ she told CBS last week, after speaking to President Biden about the matter.
‘Members of my team and the State Department met with Elizabeth Whelan this morning virtually over Zoom. I wasn’t a part of it today, although I did participate the conversation the President had with Elizabeth a few days ago where they, too, were brainstorming and talking through ideas about how to go forward,’ he said.
‘You’ll understand that I can’t get into the specifics of the kinds of things that we’re contemplating to to try to ensure that we get home as soon as we can,’ he added.
He said the conversations with the Whalen family have been ‘substantive’ and they had ‘a number of very good questions’ as well as suggestions.
‘And we have been working to figure out what it is going to take to ultimately secure his freedom and how we can go about getting that and being able to sit down with the Russians and work out a deal,’ he said.
But he said the specifics had to remain in ‘sensitive channels.’
He appeared to reject the idea of any sort of policy concessions, amid Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine.
‘No, we’re not going to take a different approach to Ukraine. We believe that there are ways that we can continue to try to run things that we have had in motion that we’re still working on. That could potentially lead to a positive result here,’ he said.