The White House said Monday that the Biden administration is “compelled and determined” to bring Navy veteran Paul Whelan back to the United States, insisting that President Biden’s “commitment” to the effort is “absolutely strong.” like a rock, intense” and “as high as a priority that the president has.
Whelan, a US Navy veteran who remains in a Russian prison, has been held since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the United States have said are baseless.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan took the podium at a news conference Monday to announce that members of the National Security Council and the State Department met virtually with Whelan’s wife, Elizabeth, over early that day.
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“You’ll understand that I can’t go into detail about the kinds of things that we’re contemplating to try to make sure we get Paul home as soon as we can,” Sullivan said, adding that discussions with the Whelan family “have been substantive.”
“We have been working to figure out what it will take to ultimately secure their freedom and how we can achieve that, and be able to sit down with the Russians and come to an agreement,” Sullivan said. He added that details about the efforts “really need to be kept in the sensitive channels” the United States has with the Russian government.
“But we are obligated and determined to ensure that we work with a successful method to secure the release of Paul Whelan as soon as possible,” he said.
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Sullivan said Biden administration officials believe there are a number of options that “could potentially lead to a positive outcome here.”
Sullivan explained that “the big challenge” the administration has had in recent months regarding Whelan’s release is that Russia had been asking for something that officials have been unable to deliver, but he maintained that the challenge is one that the administration of Biden is up.”
“That’s a problem we’re trying to solve,” he said. “I’ll just reinforce that our commitment to this is absolutely rock solid, intense.”
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“This is as high a priority as the president’s,” he said.
Sullivan’s comments come after the Biden administration successfully negotiated the release of WNBA player Brittney Griner last week. Griner was handed over in exchange for the release of convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was once nicknamed “the merchant of death.”
The president and administration officials have stressed that the United States did not have “a choice of which American to take home,” with Biden maintaining that Russia is treating Whelan differently “for totally illegitimate reasons.”
“We will never give up,” Biden said last week.
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On Monday, Sullivan argued that the Biden administration is working to “find the right formula” so that it can present the Russian Federation to secure Whelan’s release.
“We are determined to find a way to do it. That is what we are working on,” he said.