(CNN) — US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken revealed publicly for the first time on Thursday that the US has made a “serious proposal” to free wrongfully detained Paul Whelan from Russia.
US officials have long stressed their commitment to bringing home Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018, but the public revelation that a deal is on the table marks a significant advance in those efforts.
a “Brief meetingWith Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday, Blinken said he had pressed the Russian foreign minister about Whelan’s detention and privilege.
“America has come up with a serious plan. Moscow has to accept that,” Blinken told a news conference after his meeting with Lavrov.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that it was “not the first time the Russians have heard of a plan today.”
Price declined to elaborate on that proposal, but said it was something “we’ve consistently communicated to you in the past.”
“We have communicated to the Russian Federation the proposal that we have put on the table, with some of the necessary details,” Price told a departmental briefing. “We’ve done this relentlessly, we’ve done this creatively, and we want to do everything we can to see Paul Whelan exonerated.”
Price did not say whether the Russian government had committed to the proposal.
Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 on espionage charges, which he vehemently denies. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.
The U.S. failed to secure their freedom in a prisoner exchange that brought home another American prisoner, Brittney Griner, in December. Several U.S. officials said that after Kreiner’s release, the Russians refused to negotiate for Whelan.
Before Thursday’s engagement, Blinken spoke with Lavrov for the last time, and the only time the two have spoken directly since the war in Ukraine began. A phone call in July Last, he “persuaded the Kremlin to agree to the important proposal we made in the publication of Paul Whelan and Brittney Kreiner.”
CNN reported in January In the wake of Kreiner’s release, the U.S. “had direct discussions with Russian officials” about Whelan.
Whalen, who Exclusively called CNN Hours after Criner’s release from his remote penal colony, he said he hoped President Joe Biden and his administration would “do everything they can to bring me home, no matter what the cost.”
On Thursday, Whalen’s family praised Blinken in a meeting with Lavrov.
Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister, told CNN following Blinken’s exchange with Lavrov, “Of course we’re glad to see Paul’s case progress this way, and we’re very comforted that the Secretary of State continues to push for a solution to Paul’s wrongful custody.”
David Whelan thanked his brother for mentioning him “in a rare compromise between Foreign Secretary and Foreign Secretary.”
“It reinforces our sense that the White House continues to advocate for Paul, even if we don’t always see the action,” he told CNN.
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