President Biden faced pressure to pursue the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two former U.S. Marines jailed in Russia, ahead of his planned meeting Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Whelan, 51, of Michigan, and Mr. Reed, 29, of Texas, are serving prison sentences in Russia for unrelated convictions of espionage and assaulting police, respectively. Both say they are innocent.
Bipartisan members of the Michigan and Texas congressional delegations sent a letter urging Mr. Biden to address the arrest and detention of both men when he meets with Mr. Putin in Geneva.
“These political arrests are unacceptable and fly in the face of international legal standards,” the more than 40 lawmakers wrote Mr. Biden.
The convictions were handed down while former President Trump was in the White House, and the Geneva summit will be the first time Mr. Biden will meet face to face with Mr. Putin since entering office.
Mr. Putin said in an interview aired Monday that he would be open to discussing the prisoners with Mr. Biden when the leaders meet.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said after the interview aired that Mr. Biden should demand the release of the men as a precondition to the meeting.
“These two Americans deserve to come home to their families,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement.
Mr. Whelan spoke to his parents by phone last month shortly after the summit was scheduled. His family recorded audio of the call, and they shared an excerpt Monday containing his message for Mr. Biden.
“President Biden, after 30 months of being wrongfully detained by the Russian government, which is twice as long as American citizens were held hostage in Tehran, I implore you to bring this appalling case of hostage diplomacy to an end,” Mr. Whelan said in the audio recording shared with The Washington Times.
“The abduction of an American tourist cannot stand,” he said during the May 30 phone call.
Mr. Reed has not spoken to his parents by phone since May 20, CNN reported this week. He learned several days later that he tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Bartle Gorman, the deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, announced last week that he recently issued a diplomatic note to the Russian government protesting its treatment of Mr. Reed.
“We are gravely concerned about his health,” he said Friday.
More recently, Mr. Putin said in the interview that he was open to discussing possible negotiations with Mr. Biden, including a potential exchange of U.S. and Russian prisoners.
“We’re prepared to discuss these issues,” Mr. Putin told NBC News.
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