Blinken had “long, frank” phone call with Paul Whelan

Washington — Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone on Wednesday with Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2018. 

Blinken told Whelan to “keep the faith and we’re doing everything we can to bring you home as soon as possible,” a source familiar with the call told CBS News. 

It’s the second time the top U.S. diplomat has spoken with Whelan. 

CNN was first to report the call. 

Whelan’s brother, David, said the two had “a long, frank conversation,” but didn’t have additional details. 

“I don’t believe Paul, our parents, or the rest of our family thinks that the call represents anything other than that Secretary Blinken is a good person and that the U.S. government remains engaged in finding a resolution to his case,” he said. “But there is no suggestion that they are any closer to resolution.”

The call follows a meeting by the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, with detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Monday at Lefortovo Prison. Tracy said Gershkovich “continues to appear in good health and remains strong, despite his circumstances,” according to a State Department spokesperson. 

The ambassador last visited Gershkovich, who was arrested on unsubstantiated espionage charges, in July after months of protests by the U.S. that diplomatic officials had been denied access to meet with him. 

The U.S. has been trying to negotiate the release of Whelan and Gershkovich, both of whom the U.S. has designated as wrongfully detained, but national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in July that the discussions “have not produced a clear pathway to a resolution.” 

President Biden said last month that he was “serious” about pursuing a prisoner exchange when asked about Gershkovich’s detention in Russia. 

“I’m serious about doing all we can to free Americans being illegally held in Russia or anywhere else for that matter, and that process is underway,” Mr. Biden told reporters during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland. 

The U.S. made prisoner swaps for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine veteran Trevor Reed, who were both wrongfully detained in Russia after Whelan’s arrest. 

Whelan and his family have voiced concern that he could be left behind again as the U.S. also seeks the release of Gershkovich. Whelan is imprisoned in Mordovia and serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, which the U.S. denies. 

Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department, said in June that a phone call from Whelan after Griner’s release was “one of the toughest phone calls” he has ever had.  

“At 9:30 in the morning, Paul Whelan called me from Russia. He was allowed to make a phone call and I had to spend 30 minutes on the phone telling him what happened and why we were unable to get him out at that time,” Carstens said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.

“And I said, ‘Paul, the Russians gave us one deal. It was Brittney, or no one. There was no opportunity to get you out. And we’re not going to stop. My foot is on the gas pedal. We’re going 110 miles an hour. We will not relent until we bring you home,'” Carstens said. 

Margaret Brennan contributed reporting. 

Caitlin Yilek

Caitlin Yilek is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital. Reach her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter:

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