These sources told CNN that the plan to exchange bot with Whelan and Greener had the support of President Joe Biden after it had been under discussion since earlier this year. Biden’s support for the swap overcomes opposition from the Department of Justice, which is generally against the prisoner trade.
“So far, there is no agreement on this issue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced Wednesday that the United States made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago” regarding Whelan and Greiner, who have been designated as unjustly detained.
Speaking at a news conference at the State Department, Blinken said Biden was “directly involved” and agreed to the proposal. Although Blinken did not directly confirm that Bout was part of the deal, saying he “cannot and will not go into any of the details of what we’ve been proposing to the Russians over the course of several weeks now,” he said “in the president’s terms, of course he wasn’t just deeply involved.” Direct, he signs off on any proposal we make, certainly when it comes to Americans being arbitrarily detained abroad, including in this specific case.”
“There is a benefit in my mind in conveying clear, direct messages to the Russians about the main priorities for us. As I mentioned, these include securing the homecoming of Britney Greiner and Paul Whelan,” he said.
A senior administration official noted that Moscow did not respond to the “substantial show” first made in June, telling CNN that “the tango requires two performances.”
“We start all negotiations to return Americans held hostage or unjustly held with a bad actor on the other side. We start all these negotiations with someone who took an American and treated him as a bargaining chip,” the official said. “So, in some ways, it is not surprising, even if it is disheartening, that when these actors do not necessarily respond directly to our offers, they do not engage constructively in the negotiations.”
Management continues to submit the offer
The official declined to comment on the details of the “substantial offer.” They said that in the Russian court “to answer it, but at the same time not leave us negative, as we continue to deliver the show at very high levels.”
The National Communications Security Council’s strategic coordinator, John Kirby, said Wednesday that a senior administration official spoke with the families before Blinken announced the “substantial proposal.” Biden recently spoke on the phone with Greiner’s wife, Cheryl, and Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth.
During months of internal discussions between US agencies, the Department of Justice opposed the bot’s trading, say people briefed on the matter. However, justice officials eventually agreed that Bout’s business had the support of top State Department and White House officials, including Biden himself, sources say.
The Russian government has long brought up the bot as a potential trade topic for a number of Americans.
Asked at the Aspen Security Forum last week why Moscow was interested in getting Bout back, CIA Director Bill Burns replied, “That’s a good question because Victor Bout has crawled.”
“The Russians over the years have certainly expressed interest in the return of Victor Bout but these, as I learned in my old life, are very complex issues to try to solve,” he said, referring to his long tenure. as a diplomat.
The US government has long resisted prisoner swaps, arguing that it only incentivized states to detain Americans so they can be used as a bargaining chip. Advocates questioned these fears and argued that it was critical for Americans to be able to return home.
Biden officials were concerned that Republicans would criticize the decision to swap Reed and Yaroshenko. Instead, it won bipartisan praise, including by a handful of Republicans who are usually sharp critics of the administration. That reception prompted the administration to reconsider all options – including potential trade-offs – to get Whelan and Greiner out of Russia, sources say.
“Whatever kind of moral humiliation it is that they are holding innocent people and trying to extract from us someone like Mr. Yaroshenko, who is the opposite, we are nonetheless so committed to bringing our people home that we are going to make these painful choices in the future,” the senior administration official told CNN. in certain circumstances.”
Securing their release would also give the White House a much-needed political victory ahead of the November midterm elections, a point some officials quietly acknowledged when speaking privately to CNN. There is also a sense of urgency to repatriate detainees as the White House faces increased public scrutiny from families of Americans illegally detained abroad.
This story has been updated with additional comment.
CNN’s Michael Conti and Christian Sierra contributed to this report.
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