White House counters Saudi claim on Brittney Griner negotiations, says talks were between US, Russia

The White House on Thursday looked to set the record straight on who was responsible for the negotiations that secured WNBA star Brittney Griner’s safe return from Russia: Washington and Moscow.

“This negotiation was between the U.S. government and Russia, and that’s how we were able to secure Britney’s release,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

But when pressed on comments made by a U.S. security official on background earlier Thursday who thanked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for their role in her return, Jean-Pierre doubled down.

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“The only countries that negotiated this deal were the United States and Russia,” she said, adding that “there was no mediation involved” by either Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

Questions over Griner’s release mounted earlier in the day after both nations released a joint statement in which they claimed to have led “mediation” efforts between the U.S. and Russia.

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“UAE, Saudi Ministries of Foreign Affairs announced the success of the mediation led by President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” UAE state-run news agency WAM posted in a statement to Twitter.

The White House press secretary said she had nothing to say in regard to the joint statement and reiterated comments made by President Joe Biden earlier in the day.

“We are grateful for the UAE, as the president mentioned, as I am mentioning now, for facilitating the use of their territory for the exchange to take place,” Jean-Pierre said in reference to the UAE’s help in receiving Griner by private jet from Moscow before she then departed for the U.S. 

“We are also grateful to other countries, including Saudi Arabia, that released the issue of our wrongfully detained Americans with a Russian government,” she added. “But when it comes to her release, it was between the U.S. government and Russia.”

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