Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson told CNN in an interview on Sunday that he had met with “senior Russian officials, individuals close to President (Vladimir) Putin” during his trip to Moscow in September to help secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.
Richardson told Jake Tapper on Sunday’s “State of the Union” that he’s working with the families of both Americans while coordinating with the White House and that he’s optimistic.
“I am cautiously optimistic on the Griner (and) Whelan negotiations,” said Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico who has a long history of working to free Americans detained overseas. He is representing both the Griner and Whelan families.
Richardson reiterated that the exchange would likely include two Russians in prison in the U.S. Though he didn’t name them, there has been much speculation that one of them would be convicted Russian gun-runner Viktor Bout.
Tapper asked if Griner and Whalen would be freed by the end of this year. Richardson sounded confident.
“I do think so. Now, I hate making predictions, but yes,” Richardson replied.
“I know (the families are) very emotional and this is a very emotional time. All I can say is that the Biden administration is working hard on it. So am I,” Richardson said. “We coordinate, but not always agree on every tactical decision. But I’m not going to interfere in their process. I’m just giving you my assessment after two visits to Russia on behalf of American hostages.”
The White House said last week that it has yet to receive a “serious counter-offer” from Moscow though Richardson told Tapper he sensed from the Russian officials he met that Moscow were “ready to talk.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on Aug. 4 after pleading guilty to drug charges for inadvertently having less than a gram of cannabis oil in her suitcase when traveling to Moscow to finish her 7th season with a Russian basketball team.
Whelan was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in jail after being convicted of spying, charges he has denied.
Image and article originally from www.benzinga.com. Read the original article here.