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Biden to meet families of Russian prisoners Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan

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President Joe Biden will meet with the family of Brittney Griner, the WNBA player who remains imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, White House officials confirmed Thursday. File Photo by Evgenia Novozhenina/EPA-EFE
President Joe Biden will meet with the family of Brittney Griner, the WNBA player who remains imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, White House officials confirmed Thursday. File Photo by Evgenia Novozhenina/EPA-EFE

Sept. 15 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden will meet with the family of Brittney Griner, the WNBA player who remains imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, White House officials confirmed Thursday.

"He [Biden] wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind, and that his team is working on this every day," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing Thursday afternoon.

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Biden also will meet with the sister of Paul Whelan, 52, who was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and convicted of espionage charges. The former U.S. Marine is serving a 16-year, hard labor sentence at a Mordovia prison camp.

Griner, who turns 32 in October, is serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony. Her lawyers filed a notice of appeal in August, following her conviction earlier in the month.

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Griner was arrested at the Moscow airport in February carrying two small vape cartridges in her luggage containing cannabis oil -- a substance for which she has a valid prescription, but is illegal in Russia.

Her lawyers have said the appellate process could take as long as three months.

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The meeting will mark the time the family members have met Biden in person, though both have spoken by phone with the president.

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Biden will "discuss his continuing commitment to bringing their family members home safely," Jean-Pierre told reporters.

"As we have said before, we believe that Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney and Paul under intolerable circumstances."

Jean-Pierre said Biden has been in constant contact with both families while the government has been "directly engaged with the Russian government through appropriate channels."

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She did not mention any progress in talks between the two sides. The United States considers Whelan and Griner to be wrongfully detained.

"I would love to say that the purpose of this meeting is to inform the families that the Russians have accepted our offer and we are bringing their loved ones home. That is not what we're seeing in these negotiations at this time," Jean-Pierre said during Thursday's briefing.

"Look, as we've said, the Russians should accept our offer. They should accept our offer today. We will keep working diligently until the day we get to share that good news."

In July, U.S. officials confirmed they'd made an offer to free the two American captives. The deal revolves around convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

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Bout, who is known by some as "The Merchant of Death," is being held at U.S., Penitentiary Marion, a medium-security federal prison in Illinois. Prosecutors contend he was selling weapons that were intended to be used to kill Americans.

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