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President Joe Biden Meets with Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan's Family Members at the White House

People 9/18/2022 Shafiq Najib

Cherelle T. Griner/Instagram © Provided by People Cherelle T. Griner/Instagram

President Joe Biden met with Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle Griner and Paul Whelan's sister Elizabeth Whelan separately on Friday in the Oval Office, according to the White House.

The meetings were held to "reiterate his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely," according to a statement from Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. 

"He asked after the wellbeing of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time," the statement continued. "The President appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long."

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images; KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images © Provided by People ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images; KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

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Following the meeting, Cherelle posted a picture with Biden, 79, on her Instagram to express her gratitude for his support. 

"I want to thank President Biden for yesterday's meeting as well as the Administration for its efforts to secure my wife's release," she wrote in the caption. "It was an honor to speak with him directly about the Brittney we know and love. I've felt every minute of the grueling seven months without her. I look forward to the day my wife is back home."

She continued, "As my family and I continue on this journey, I'd like to thank the broad coalition of friends, leaders and supporters who continue to stand with us and advocate for Brittney's swift and safe return."

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"Let's share a unified commitment to bringing all Americans home to their families and loved ones. Together We Are BG," Cherelle added. 

Meanwhile, Elizabeth also thanked Biden and his administration via Twitter for their efforts to bring her brother home, writing in part, "Hostage-diplomacy is a natsec issue; when hostile nations take Americans + hold them as pawns, we must work together with a vigorous whole-of-govt approach to reunite those wrongfully detained with their families, and deter these countries from this malign practice."

"I have complete faith that the Biden administration is fully engaged and using the tools at their disposal to bring my brother home," she shared. "Now we need #Russia to also engage in good faith, and free #PaulWhelan."

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Earlier talks between Biden and Russian law enforcement suggested that Brittney, 31, and Paul, 52, may be exchanged for Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. However, with no new updates on her next possible steps, "Brittney is stressed and very much concerned with the future," her lawyer Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, previously told PEOPLE.

Brittney was sentenced to nine years in prison on Aug. 4 on charges of smuggling drugs into the country, just below the maximum sentence of 10 years. After the trial, Blagovolina had said the sentence was "absolutely unreasonable," and that she and Brittney's legal team will file an appeal as soon as possible. That happened on Aug. 15, and nearly a month later, they're still waiting to learn what day the hearings will start, Blagovolina says.

According to CNN, Paul has been held in Russia since 2018 for alleged espionage.

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News of his arrest broke on New Year's Eve 2018 when Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it had detained the Michigan resident during a "spy mission". However, a U.S. government security source told PEOPLE at the time that Paul is not a secret agent for the United States.

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