David Whelan, Paul Whelan's brother, says: "Any time an American comes home, it's wonderful news ... We do worry about what's in Paul's future. I think it's become clear that the U.S. doesn't have any concessions that Russia wants for Paul." pic.twitter.com/xkTpJbaR0Y— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 8, 2022
White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday the focus was on getting Griner and Whelan home.
“We urge the Russians to move positively on that proposal, so we can get these two individuals home,” Kirby said. “The details of it, I think, are best left between us and our Russian counterparts.”
Saale said releasing Bout would send a message that detaining Americans can yield major concessions from the U.S. government. But the administration, he added, is stuck “between a rock and a hard place” at this stage. A prisoner swap of this sort is “probably one of the only ways they’re going to get [Griner and Whelan] out.”
Another former official who worked on international prisoner exchanges said the Russians have raised the issue of Bout’s release many times before, but such an exchange “has always been a hard no” from the U.S. Justice Department.
“I know Blinken is having discussions, but I can’t imagine Blinken agreeing to it,” said the former official, adding that “lower-level criminals” who are nearing the end of their sentences would be more likely candidates for an exchange. The former official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing case.
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