White House Will Be 'Relentless' In Securing Paul Whelan's Release

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan described the administration's commitment to bringing Paul Whelan home as "absolutely rock solid."

White House Will Be 'Relentless' In Securing Paul Whelan's Release
Sofia Sandurskaya / Moscow News Agency / AP

The White House insists its commitment to securing the freedom of American Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russia for nearly four years, is "as high a priority as the president has."

Speaking to reporters at the briefing Monday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan described the administration's commitment to bringing Whelan home as "absolutely rock solid" and "intense."

Sullivan told reporters, "We believe that there are plays that we can continue to try to run, things that we have had in motion, that we are still working on, that that could potentially lead to a positive result here," but added that because of the sensitivity of the situation, he couldn't elaborate further.

"We are bound and determined to ensure that we work through a successful method of securing Paul Whelan's release at the earliest possible opportunity, he said.

President Joe Biden announced last that the U.S. had secured the release American womens basketball star Brittney Griner, who had been in a Russian prison for ten months.

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In exchange, the administration offered Russia the release of notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.

But the U.S. was unable to secure the freedom of Whelan, who has been held in Russia for nearly four years. Administration officials have stressed repeatedly that they are still working to release Whelan, whom Russian officials have jailed on espionage charges that both his family and the U.S. government say are baseless.

Asked if the White House considers Bout "to be a terrorist," Sullivan answered that it considers him to be a "convicted criminal, convicted of arms trafficking and other crimes."

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Sullivan said the administration asses it "can manage" any threats potentially posed by Bout, who is now back in Russia as a result of the prisoner swap.

"We believe we can manage those challenges, but we will remain constantly vigilant against any threat that Viktor may pose to Americans to the United States going forward," Sullivan said.

"We also would just point out that there is no shortage of arms traffickers and mercenaries in Russia who pose challenges and threats to the international order, to the United States and otherwise. And we are vigilant about that as well," he added.

Regarding the U.S. court appearance of a Libyan accused in the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland 34 years ago, Sullivan called it "a very good thing."

"Today is a good day because Mas'ud (Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi) will be facing justice for his alleged role in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing."

The Justice Department announced Sunday that Mas'ud had been taken into U.S. custody, two years after it revealed that it had charged him in connection with the explosion.

Two other Libyan intelligence officials have been charged in the U.S. for their alleged involvement in the attack, but Mas'ud was the first defendant to appear in an American courtroom for prosecution.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.