US officials frustrated at Moscow’s lack of substantive response to proposed prisoner swap

US President Joe Biden’s administration officials are frustrated that Moscow has yet to respond in a meaningful way to their “substantial proposal” to try to free two detained Americans – a deal which includes a trade for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, as CNN exclusively reported Wednesday.

That proposal was presented to Russia weeks ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said when publicly announcing it Wednesday. Administration officials told CNN that they felt Moscow would jump at the offer, but it is now almost August and they have not received a substantive response, officials said.

On Thursday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed that “so far there is no agreement on this issue.”

Frustration at Russia’s lack of substantive response to the deal was an underlying factor in the administration’s decision to publicize that an agreement from the US is on the table.

“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official told CNN Wednesday.

However, there was acknowledgement within the administration that negotiations to try to free detained Americans are often difficult.

“We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side. We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip,” the senior official said.

“So in some ways, it’s not surprising, even if it’s disheartening, when those same actors don’t necessarily respond directly to our offers, don’t engage constructively in negotiations,” they said.

New details: National Security Council strategic coordinator for communications John Kirby offered some new details Thursday on the decision to go public with news that the US had offered the prisoner swap.

“We have made that decision seriously in terms of whether we were going to go public with it and I could just tell you that there was a lot that went into that decision. A lot of context here, both in terms of what was happening, what wasn’t happening, and certainly in the context of Mrs. Griner having to testify yesterday,” Kirby said during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Kirby continued: “There was an awful lot of discussion about whether we should even acknowledge that there was a proposal but ultimately, we came down on the side that it was important to put this out there that people that the American people know how seriously President Biden takes his responsibilities to bring American citizens home when they’ve been unjustly detained. But we also thought it was important for the world to know how seriously American takes that responsibility.”

Kirby did not offer any updates on the status of the offer.

“We’re still hoping that this proposal will be accepted by the Russians and then we can move forward to bring Brittney and Paul home,” he said.

He said it had been put forth “many weeks ago.”

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