Dec 15, 2021 - World

Scoop: Parents of ex-Marine held in Russia meet with Jake Sullivan

Trevor Reed

Trevor Reed, during a sentencing hearing in Moscow in 2019. Photo: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS via Getty Images

The parents of Trevor Reed, a former Marine wrongfully detained in Russia since 2019, met on Tuesday with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to discuss their son's case, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: It's at least the third meeting Sullivan has had with the relatives of a U.S. hostage or wrongful detainee this month, after families confronted him about meeting requests that had gone unanswered.

Context: As Axios first reported, Sullivan told dozens of families during a Dec. 3 Zoom call he was unaware they'd been seeking meetings with him. He pledged to make himself personally available going forward.

  • Hostage families like the Reeds engage frequently with the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs (SPEHA), a State Department office established in 2015 to isolate hostage negotiations from broader national security policy.
  • But families and advocates say engaging with the national security adviser remains a top priority, given that they're responsible for presenting the president with potential deals to bring hostages home.

Driving the news: Since the Dec. 3 videoconference, Sullivan has met with the mother of Austin Tice, a journalist kidnapped in Syria in 2012, and the family of Matthew Heath, a former Marine arrested by the Venezuelan government in 2020.

  • Elizabeth Whelan, whose brother Paul Whelan is also a former Marine detained in Russia, told Axios she's requested a meeting but has not yet had a date confirmed.
  • Whelan's questioning of Sullivan during the Zoom call is ultimately what led to his commitment to meet with her and any other hostage family.

What they're saying: Joey and Paula Reed told Axios during an interview in Washington they were thrilled with their conversation with Sullivan, whom they described as engaged, candid and highly competent.

  • The Reeds said Sullivan did all he could to answer every question they had, and they left the meeting feeling more positive than they had in a long time.
  • A senior administration official told Axios: "We will continue to work to ensure we are communicating and sharing information in a way useful to the families whom we view as our valued partners in the enduring efforts to bring home their loved ones."

The big picture: Trevor Reed, 30, was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020, on charges of assaulting an officer during a drunken night out in Moscow.

His family says there's no evidence for the charges, and that he's being held by the Russian government as a bargaining chip.

  • Reed is serving out his sentence in a penal colony, and went on hunger strike last month to protest his inhumane prison conditions.
  • His family says he's not received adequate health treatment, including for COVID-19, and has frequently been held in solitary confinement.
  • The Reeds say they have complete faith President Biden raised their son's case during his video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month, but they fear a Russian invasion of Ukraine could effectively turn their son into a prisoner of war.
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