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President Biden “fulfilled a deeply important promise to bring Brittney Griner home to a family that loves, a team that misses her, and a country that marveled at her strength and courage,” stated White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in press briefing on Thursday.
Olympic athlete Brittney Griner was released from the Russian penal colony where she was wrongfully detained after Russian authorities accused Griner of carrying hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow on February 17th.
“Britney is more than an athlete, she is an important role model and an inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQ+ community and women of color,” remarked Jean-Pierre.
Brittney Griner has been released under the conditions that Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer otherwise known as the “Merchant of Death,” who served 12 years in a US prison, is sent back to Russia.
Russian and American officials made the prisoners exchange in Abu Dhabi, and Griner is expected to arrive in the US late Thursday.
“It was the product of months of painstaking negotiations that were the culmination of extraordinary efforts across the US government,” said Jean-Pierre.
The White House Press Secretary was asked a wave of questions regarding Griner’s release and the current situation of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine held in a penal colony in Russia.
She explained that due to “totally illegitimate” charges Russian authorities have levied against Whelan, US officials were not able to secure his return home together with Griner.
“Unfortunately the choice came down to bringing Britney home, or no one,” said Jean-Pierre.
She repeatedly reiterated Biden’s commitment to “doing everything possible to secure Paul’s return and other Americans that are wrongfully detained abroad.”
Jean-Pierre maintained that the administration made every possible offer to Russian officials in exchange for Whelan’s release. However, “there was no way to bring Paul home right now.”
According to Jean-Pierre, the Russians were unwilling to negotiate Whelan’s release in “good faith.” When asked what the Press Secretary meant by “good faith,” she preferred to remain elusive regarding the negotiation processes.
When asked about the potential dangers of Bout’s release to the American people, Jean-Pierre stated, “We will always stay vigilant about our national security. That was true yesterday and today and that will remain true after Mr. Bout is released.”Many fear that Bout, accused of conspiring to kill Americans, delivering anti-aircraft missiles, and aiding a terrorist organization, threatens US safety and security.
“This was not a decision that the President made lightly, but he believed it was the right thing to do to secure Brittney’s release,” replied Jean-Pierre.
“We want the American people to know that their safety and security is among our highest priorities and we continue to work aggressively using all available means to bring home all US nationals who are wrongfully detained and held captive. This was a promise made by the President and we are not going to apologize for it,” said the Press Secretary.
Jean-Pierre assured that this achievement does not change the government’s position in other Russian-related matters.
“This is not going to change our commitment to the Ukrainian people, and in making sure they are able to fight the aggression they are dealing with Russia, to fight for their freedom, to fight for their democracy,” stated Jean-Pierre.
The Press Secretary deterred away from speculations regarding other Russia-U.S. issues, explaining that “this was about securing Brittney’s release. Pure and simple.”
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