‘Keep the faith, we’re coming’: White House officials ‘will keep trying’ to send Paul Whelan back to US
Days after securing the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody, US officials said they were “still negotiating” for the release of former US Marine Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia since 2018.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said President Joe Biden’s administration had made a “very serious and specific offer” for Mr. Whelan and Ms. Griner together, but “it just didn’t work.” landed nowhere…with the Russians,” he told ABC. This week on December 11, three days after Mrs. Griner returned to American soil.
“As we progressed through this summer and into the fall … it was clear that they were treating Paul very separately, very distinctly because of these bogus espionage charges that they had brought against him,” a- he added. Mr Whelan was charged with espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.
Presidential envoy for hostage affairs Roger Carstens, who escorted Ms Griner to the plane bound for the United States after her exchange with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, said he spoke with Mr Whelan on Dec. 9.
“I said, ‘Paul, you have this president’s commitment, the president’s focus, the secretary of state’s focus, I’m definitely focused — we’re going to get you home,'” Mr. Carstens to CNN on Sunday. “I reminded him, ‘When you were in the Marines and I was in the Army, they always reminded you: Keep the faith. We’re coming for you.
Mr Whelan also ‘shared his frustration’ with Mr Carstens at remaining in jail despite the release of Mr Griner and Trevor Reed, a US Navy veteran who returned to the US after another prisoner swap with Russia earlier this year.
Mr Carstens said he explained that negotiations with Russia were a “case where there was either one or none”.
“If we hadn’t made the deal, Brittney wouldn’t have come home,” he added.
In a message to CNN from a Russian prison, Mr Whelan said he was “very disappointed that nothing more has been done” to secure his release.
“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” he said by phone.
Mr. Kirby told ABC it had become increasingly clear in the past week that Mr. Whelan’s release alongside Ms. Griner would be unlikely.
“It really occurred to us that there was just no chance of doing it last week,” he said. “We had been trying until the moment we made the deal that brought Brittney home, we were still trying to get Paul out.”
He said the United States “will continue to try as much as possible” to recover Mr Whelan.
“This business of bringing home wrongfully detained Americans, there’s nothing easy about it,” he said.
Mr Carstens would not reveal the scope of these negotiations, saying that “we generally have to keep our cards close to our chest”.
“Sometimes we have to adapt,” he added. “But here’s the thing I’d like to leave you with: we have an ongoing, shall we say, open dialogue with the Russians. And we have a commitment from this president and my office, certainly, to bring Paul Whelan home.
The Independent Gt