U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants' cage before the court's verdict in Khimki City court in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4. The Khimki City Court has sentenced Griner to nine years in prison after finding her guilty on charges of drug smuggling. File Photo by Evgenia Novozhenina/EPA-EFE
Nov. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. State Department officials met with imprisoned basketball star Brittney Griner in Russia on Thursday as they continue to push for her release.
Griner, the 32-year-old center for the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February and accused of arriving in the country with cannabis oil in her luggage. She was found guilty of smuggling narcotics into Russia in August and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Ned Price, the spokesman for the State Department, said in a statement on Twitter that officials with the U.S. Embassy in Russia met with Griner.
"They saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances," Price said.
"We continue to press for the immediate release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and fair treatment for every detained American."
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that Griner had met with U.S. officials during a briefing with reporters traveling on Air Force One.
"We are told she is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances," Jean-Pierre said, calling the imprisonment of Griner and Whelan "wrongful detentions."
Whelan is a U.S. citizen and former Marine who was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and convicted of espionage. He is currently serving a 16-year sentence.
"I can also tell you that in the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good-faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels," Jean-Pierre said. "This continues to be a top priority."
Griner's detention has made headlines throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began in February. Her family has urged the administration of President Joe Biden to do more to return the basketball star to the United States.