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US offers to swap Griner for Russian

From left, Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan

WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the Biden administration has made a “substantial” offer to Russia designed to facilitate the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and corporate executive Paul Whelan.

Griner is a Houston and Aldine native, having played basketball for Aldine Nimitz high school. She now is an all-star for Phoenix in the WNBA.

After months of internal debate, the Biden administration has offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25- year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of two Americans held by Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

The revelation came during a press briefing, with Blinken laying out his plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days.

“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken said, declining to provide further details about the proposal.

Blinken’s remarks come as the Biden administration faces growing calls to do more to secure the release of the two Americans who U.S. officials say have been wrongfully detained.

“Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally, and I hope move us toward a resolution,” Blinken added. A senior administration official suggested Moscow has not been responsive to the “substantial offer” first presented in June, saying “it takes two to tango.”

He said it would be the first time he’s spoken with his Russian counterpart since the war in Ukraine erupted in February.

A senior administration official said that a high-level U.S. official reached out to the families of both Whelan, who was detained by Russia in 2018, and Griner, who was detained in February, ahead of Blinken’s remarks Wednesday. The high-level official will be having conversations with the families on Wednesday and Thursday, the source said.