Aug 16, 2022 - World

Former Gov. Richardson "optimistic" on Griner, Whelan prisoner exchange

Bill Richardson at Hamad International Airport in Qatar in November 2021.
Bill Richardson at Hamad International Airport in Qatar in November 2021. Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told ABC News on Tuesday he is "optimistic" about the United States bringing imprisoned Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back from Russia through a prisoner exchange.

Why it matters: Richardson, also a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been involved in the negotiated releases of several Americans detained abroad through the Richardson Center for Global Engagement.

  • Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby said last month that the Biden administration has asked Richardson to work to release Americans being wrongfully held in Russia and other parts of the world.
  • Richardson has helped negotiate the release of journalist Danny Fenster who was held in Myanmar, and Trevor Reed, who was released from Russia through a prisoner exchange earlier this year.

Driving the news: WNBA star Griner was found guilty on drug charges by a Russian court and sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this month, though her legal team filed an appeal against the verdict on Monday.

What they're saying: Richardson told ABC News he believes the U.S. and Russia "are moving in the right direction because they've done it before, despite the fact that the relationship between the United States and Russia is toxic. Totally toxic."

  • "So I think both sides are moving in the right direction and I'm optimistic," Richardson said.
  • "Now, eventually, I think it's not going to be a two-for-one deal. I think it's going to be a two-for-two," he added.
  • "The Russians obviously probably will want more, but you never know. Again, humanitarian issues like prisoner exchanges, like this agreement on grain and fertilizer that the U.N. broke … are steps in the right direction on the humanitarian front that eventually might help in a very toxic relationship between us and the Russians."

The big picture: The U.S. warned this year that the Kremlin may be specifically targeting Americans for arrest, potentially for the purpose of exchanging them for Russians held in American prisons.

Go deeper: Brittney Griner's legal team appeals verdict on drug charges in Russia

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