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US officials met with Brittney Griner, White House says

U.S. officials met jailed U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday for the first time since a Russian court dismissed her drug possession appeal, and the White House said she was “as good as could be expected”.

Ms Griner found herself unwittingly caught up in a geopolitical battle between Russia and the West, and grappled with a Russian appeals court’s decision to uphold a nine-year sentence in a penal colony for drug possession. Ms Griner, who recently turned 32 years in custody in Russia, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges and apologized for what she called an inadvertent offence.

“We’re told she’s doing as well as expected under the circumstances,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One while traveling with President Biden. in New Mexico.

The Biden administration tried to broker a prisoner swap with Russia to bring home Ms Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned for espionage. These efforts come at a time of extraordinary tension between the two countries over the war in Ukraine.

US officials said the United States had offered to release imprisoned Russian arms dealer Victor Bout as part of the deal. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiracy to kill Americans.

Days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ms. Griner, an All-Star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at an airport near Moscow after customs officials found two vape cartridges containing hash oil in his body. luggage. She was on her way to Yekaterinburg, a city near the Ural Mountains, where she played for a women’s basketball team.

Ms Jean-Pierre said in comments broadcast live by the White House that officials from the US Embassy in Moscow were able to visit Brittney Griner on Thursday.

“As we have said before, the US government has made an important offer to the Russians to resolve the unacceptable and unwarranted detentions of US citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” she said.

She added: “I can also tell you that over the next few weeks, despite the lack of good faith negotiation on the part of the Russians, the US government continued to follow up on this offer and to offer other potential ways to move forward with the Russians through all available channels. ”

“This continues to be a top priority,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.

nytimes sport

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