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Top hostage negotiator's message to Paul Whelan: 'Keep the faith, we're coming to get you'
01:40 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly revealed for the first time Thursday that the United States has put forward a “serious proposal” to secure wrongfully detained Paul Whelan’s release from Russia.

US officials have long stressed their commitment to bringing home Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2018, but the public disclosure that a deal is on the table marks a notable development in those efforts.

In a “brief engagement” with Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting Thursday, Blinken said he pressed the Russian foreign minister on Whelan’s detention and the offer.

“The United States has put forward a serious proposal. Moscow should accept it,” Blinken said at a news conference following the meeting with Lavrov.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday that this “was not a proposal that the Russians heard for the first time today.”

Price declined to give details on that proposal, but said it was one “that we have conveyed to them consistently in the past.”

“We have conveyed in some detail, in all of the necessary detail to the Russian Federation, the proposal that we have put on the table,” Price said at a department briefing. “We have gone about this relentlessly, we have gone about this creatively, seeking to do everything we can to see the release of Paul Whelan.”

Price would not say whether the Russian government had engaged with that proposal.

Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 on espionage charges he has vehemently denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.

The United States was unable to secure his freedom from Russia in a prisoner swap that brought home another detained American – Brittney Griner – in December. Multiple US officials said following Griner’s release that the Russians refused to negotiate a deal for Whelan.

Notably, prior to Thursday’s engagement, the last time Blinken spoke with Lavrov – and the only other time the two have spoken directly since the war in Ukraine began – was in a phone call last July, when he “pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.”

CNN reported in January that US “have had direct conversations with Russian officials regarding” Whelan in the wake of Griner’s release.

Whelan, who called CNN exclusively from his remote penal colony in the hours following Griner’s release, said he hoped President Joe Biden and his administration “would do everything they could to get me home, regardless of the price they might have to pay at this point.”

On Thursday, Whelan’s family praised Blinken for bringing his case up in the engagement with Lavrov.

Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister, told CNN following Blinken’s exchange with Lavrov that “of course, we are pleased to see Paul’s case elevated in this manner, and take a great deal of comfort in the fact that the Secretary of State continues to press for a solution to Paul’s wrongful detention.”

David Whelan that the mention of his brother “at such a rare engagement between the Secretary of State and Foreign Minister” was appreciated.

“It reinforces our sense that the White House continues to advocate for Paul, even if we do not always see the activity,” he told CNN.