U.S. still talking to Russia about Griner and Whelan release - officials


FILE PHOTO: U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, stands inside a defendants' cage during the reading of the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia August 4, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) -The United States is still talking to Russia about a deal to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan but Moscow has not provided a "serious response" to any of its proposals, a senior U.S. diplomat said in comments published on Monday.

Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d'affaires in Moscow, told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency that talks were continuing through the "designated channel".

"The United States, as we have said, has put a significant proposal on the table. We have followed up on that proposal and we have proposed alternatives," she said. "Unfortunately, so far the Russian Federation has not provided a serious response to those proposals."

In Washington, the White House said conversations with Russia were ongoing. "We want them both home as fast as possible, and this administration is going to stay committed to that task," national security spokesman John Kirby said.

Basketball star Griner was taken this month to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia to serve a nine-year drug sentence after being arrested in February with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She said at her trial she used them to relieve the pain from sports injuries and had not meant to break the law.

Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, is serving 16 years in the same region on charges of espionage, which he denies.

His brother, David Whelan, said on Monday he was concerned that the family had not heard from Paul Whelan in days. Paul Whelan told them to contact the U.S. Embassy in Moscow if he didn't call home for more than three days, his brother said. When they did so, the consular staff said it had not heard from him either.

"It's incredibly unusual for Paul to miss trying to call home on a holiday like Thanksgiving," David Whelan said in a statement.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Nov. 18 he was hopeful of agreeing a prisoner swap that could see the release of Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian weapons trafficker who is in prison in the United States.

In her interview, Rood also held open the possibility of a follow-up to a meeting between CIA Director William Burns and Russian foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin in Istanbul two weeks ago - the first publicly announced face-to-face meeting between top officials of the two countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

"The United States has channels for managing risk with the Russian Federation, particularly nuclear risks, and that was the purpose of CIA director Burns’ meeting with his Russian counterpart," Rood said.

"Director Burns did not negotiate anything and he did not discuss a settlement of the conflict in Ukraine. I’m sure if there’s a need for another conversation in that channel, it can happen. There’s not anything scheduled that I know of."

Washington has said Burns used the meeting to warn about the consequences of any Russian use of nuclear weapons. Russia has declined to comment on what was discussed, describing the subject matter as sensitive.

(Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Cynthia Osterman)

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