WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken mentioned on Wednesday that the United States had “put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” in talks with Russia to safe the discharge of the basketball star Brittney Griner and one other detained American, Paul Whelan.
An individual briefed on the negotiations mentioned that in June, the United States supplied to commerce an imprisoned Russian arms seller, Viktor Bout, for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan, and that President Biden — who has been below rising political strain to free the Americans — had backed the provide.
Speaking to reporters at a information convention in Washington, Mr. Blinken mentioned that the United States and Russia had “communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal,” and that he anticipated to boost it quickly immediately with Russia’s international minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.
Mr. Blinken wouldn’t present extra particulars concerning the proposal or describe any Russian response, saying he didn’t need to endanger delicate negotiations with Moscow. Mr. Blinken final spoke with Mr. Lavrov, Russia’s high diplomat, in January at a meeting in Geneva, weeks earlier than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 led to a near-total shutdown of American diplomacy with Russia.
Mr. Blinken declined to verify a CNN report that Mr. Biden had agreed to commerce Mr. Bout, whose launch the Kremlin has demanded for years, for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan. Known because the “Merchant of Death,” Mr. Bout is serving a 25-year federal jail sentence for conspiring to promote weapons to individuals who mentioned they deliberate to kill Americans.
In response to a question final week about probably buying and selling Mr. Bout, William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, talking on the Aspen Security Forum, didn’t sound enthusiastic, calling Mr. Bout “a creep.”
Mr. Bout, 55, is a former Soviet navy officer who made a fortune in international arms trafficking earlier than he was caught in a federal sting operation. Russian officers have pressed his case for years, and in latest weeks Russian media shops had immediately linked his case to Ms. Griner’s.
Russia has held Ms. Griner, 31, since mid-February, when she was arrested at a Moscow airport on costs involving cannabis oil present in her baggage. She has pleaded responsible to the drug costs towards her and mentioned in a court docket look outdoors Moscow on Wednesday that she unintentionally packed a small quantity of the cannabis-related substance, which she makes use of on the route of a health care provider to handle ache. Russia has notoriously strict drug legal guidelines. At her trial on Wednesday, she testified of her ordeal navigating an unfamiliar authorized system.
Mr. Whelan, 52, a former Marine and safety company govt, was detained at a Moscow lodge in 2019 and charged with espionage. The State Department has categorized each Mr. Whelan and Ms. Griner as “wrongfully detained” and referred their circumstances to a particular hostage affairs office.
Mr. Whelan’s brother David mentioned in an announcement that the household was simply studying concerning the U.S. proposal.
“Our family appreciates the Biden administration seeking Paul’s release using the resources it has available,” he mentioned. “We hope the Russian government responds to the U.S. government and accepts this or some other concession that enables Paul to come home to his family.”
Ms. Griner’s Russian protection workforce mentioned that it had realized concerning the American provide from the information, and that it had not been taking part within the discussions. From the authorized perspective, the prisoner alternate is feasible solely after the court docket reaches a verdict, the legal professionals mentioned.
“In any case, we would be really happy if Brittney will be able to come home and hope it will be soon,” mentioned one in all her legal professionals, Maria Blagovolina.
While declining to debate specifics, Mr. Blinken mentioned the U.S. authorities was attempting to steadiness the imperatives of releasing wrongfully detained prisoners around the globe, whereas working “to reinforce the global norm against these arbitrary detentions, against what is truly a horrific practice.”
Critics say that prisoner swaps encourage international governments and terrorist teams to arrest or kidnap Americans. But the United States did make a commerce with Moscow in April, sending again a convicted Russian drug smuggler in alternate for Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested in Moscow in 2019 on costs of assaulting a police officer. Biden administration officers advised that commerce was an distinctive case made pressing by Mr. Reed’s failing well being.