A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday said he is “optimistic” about winning Brittney Griner’s release after the WNBA star was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on a drug conviction.
Bill Richardson told ABC’s “This Week” he believes Griner will be released alongside former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan in a two-for-two prisoner swap with Russia.
“I’m optimistic,” Richardson said. “I think she’s going to be freed. I think she has the right strategy of contrition, a good legal team. There’s going to be a prisoner swap, though. And I think it will be two-for-two involving Paul Whelan. We can’t forget him. He’s an American Marine wrongfully detained, too.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month the U.S. made a “substantial offer” to Russia in exchange for Griner and Whelan in a surprise announcement. The offer reportedly involved exchanging the two Americans for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
On Friday, Lavrov told reporters Russia was prepared to discuss the prisoner exchange deal, but warned the U.S. against making public statements about negotiations.
“If the Americans again try to engage in public diplomacy and make loud statements about their intention to take certain steps, it’s their business, I would even say their problem,” Lavrov said, according to The Associated Press. “The Americans often have trouble observing agreements on calm and professional work.”
Richardson, who told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos he serves as a “catalyst” for the negotiations between the U.S. and Russia by holding talks with each side, said he would have taken a different approach to communicate the offer. Richardson and Lavrov served as U.N. ambassadors around the same time.
“I wouldn’t have gone public as much as they did on the Bout for Griner and Whelan,” Richardson said. “But it was done. Sometimes when negotiations are not working, you want to throw a little bit of a bomb, and I think that’s what they did.”
Richardson declined to get drawn into questions over why another American detainee in Russia, educator Marc Fogel, is not part of the swap negotiations, saying “all of these that are wrongfully detained need to come home.”
The former ambassador also addressed claims that prisoner exchange deals could backfire in encouraging more U.S. adversaries to detain Americans. He said there is no data to support this argument.
“As unpleasant as [prisoner exchanges] are, we have to bring American hostages home, especially those wrongfully detained, especially those that have served in our military,” Richardson said.