Office of the Spokesperson
MODERATOR: Thank you very much and good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining this call, and especially so on such short notice. We wanted to convene it promptly given the news that has emerged this morning regarding the release of Trevor Reed from Russian custody. We’ll do this call on background. You can refer to what you hear – you can attribute it to senior administration officials.
For your knowledge only and not for reporting, we have two senior administration officials on the line. We have . We also have on the line. Again, you can refer to both of them as senior administration officials.
With that, the call will be embargoed until its conclusion, and I will turn it over to our first senior administration official to start us off. Go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you so much, . I’m grateful to everyone for joining and I am particularly grateful to have good news to share this morning. Trevor Reed, a U.S. citizen, a former U.S. Marine detained for far too long in Russia, now has his freedom and he is on the way to being reunited with his parents.
It is a big moment and a moment that speaks to President Biden’s commitment to bring home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained around the world. Let me put today’s news in some context and say a few words on how we got to this particular moment.
President Biden has been very clear since the beginning of the administration about his commitment to bringing Americans home. Very early in his tenure, Secretary of State Blinken spoke with a wide range of hostage and detainee families emphasizing the administration’s commitment in this area.
And day in and day out, the President’s National Security Council staff works on resolving these often very hard, always very important matters. That includes working closely with the remarkable Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department. It also includes working closely with FBI and a wide range of other components of the federal government.
The commitment to resolve these matters goes right to the top – to the President, to the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who has heard directly from and spoken directly with hostage and detainee families understandably eager to hear how their government is working to bring home their loved ones.
I would emphasize the President isn’t just committed; he is also delivering on that commitment. He has brought home Americans from Venezuela, from Afghanistan, from Haiti, from Burma, and now today from Russia. Trevor’s freedom is the result of months and months of hard, careful work across the U.S. Government. That includes negotiations on this discrete particular issue set with the Russians that have been going on for a very long time.
Ultimately, those negotiations led the President to have to make a very hard decision. It was a decision to commute the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine. Now I want to emphasize here that this was a commutation of his sentence. The action in no way undermines or diminishes the import of the finding of his guilt. I also want to emphasize that Yaroshenko has already paid a steep price in the U.S. justice system for his crime. In fact, he had already served the majority of his sentence.
That all being said, this is a tough call for a president. But President Biden made it to bring home an American whose health was a source of an intense concern and to deliver on his commitment to resolve these hard cases and reunite Americans with their loved ones. And so Trevor Reed is on the way to be reunited with his loving family.
I suspect that when we get to questions, there will be questions about the operational or logistical details of getting this done, and I will offer warning in advance that I just won’t have much to say on that because we don’t comment on such things. But I can say that we are relieved and frankly delighted to be welcoming Trevor home, which is where he belongs.
I also want to emphasize that our work in this area continues. Even as we celebrate today’s good news, Paul Whelan is very much on our mind, still detained in Russia. So are others held in Russia, so are others held hostage and wrongfully detained elsewhere in the world. We on the President’s team will keep working these issues until they’re home, just as the President has pledged that we’ll do.
And I want to be very clear: This is a discrete issue on which we were able to make an arrangement with the Russians. It represents no change, zero, to our approach to the appalling violence in Ukraine. Let me just emphasize this again because it’s so important: The discussions with the Russians that led to this exchange were strictly limited to these topics, not a broader diplomatic conversation or even the start of one.
Now let me hand things over to my colleague , who is , an office that has helped to make today’s good news possible. , over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Hey, thank you, . Hey, everybody this is , as said. I’m .
Obviously, as said, the United States welcomes the release of U.S. citizen Trevor Reed, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since 2019. I also want to emphasize what said, that this was a team effort. The President and his team over at the White House, the State Department, our office, but also all of you on the line here. The media coverage, the interest in Trevor Reed’s case and the ongoing case of Paul Whelan has been crucial to ensuring that the other – that the Russians knew our position and the President’s determination to get Trevor back.
So I just want to update that SPEHA Carstens met with Trevor upon his release from detention. He was in good spirits and he spoke to his family. While we celebrate the release of Trevor, we still have work to do. Unfortunately, we have another American citizen to get back. The President and Secretary Blinken have been clear about the need to see wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan released. And we won’t stop working on this until every U.S. national is detained anywhere in the world. And I just want to emphasize what said, that this is a longstanding effort – many, many months of discrete diplomacy, with certain milestones along the way, such as when the Secretary of State raised Trevor and Paul in Reykjavík in May, and then the President again in June, and then the intensive negotiations that followed.
So this is a good day. Thank you all for the broader team effort here. I’ll turn it back to at that point.
MODERATOR: Terrific. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind just repeating the instructions to ask questions.
OPERATOR: If you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 at this time.
MODERATOR: Great. We will start with the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks so much for doing the call. Can you just give us a little more details on the tick-tock of how this went down? I know you said months and months, , but specifically when did this start to gain real traction? How frequently was the U.S. meeting with the Russians? Who was meeting with the Russians to negotiate this? And how was this specific Russian prisoner and how was Trevor chosen out of the multiple Americans that are held there and the multiple Russians that are detained here? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, thanks for the question, Jennifer. So as we indicated, this conversation with the Russians on this particular issue, this discrete issue, has been going on for months. And we’ve acknowledged publicly that everyone from the President down, including the Secretary of State, as my colleague mentioned, have continued to raise at all levels with the Russian Government the importance – to us, to our President, to our government – of bringing home those who are wrongfully detained.
That conversation has, of course, included others whom we regard as wrongfully detained in Russia, and we’ll need to continue to include them so that they come home as well. Obviously, the conversations on this particular issue have accelerated recently to get us to this point. And one factor in getting to this point was our growing concern, which you’ve heard from the family publicly and which we share as a government, of what the status of Trevor Reed’s health was while in detention. That, I think, contributed to really ratcheting up the conversations on this issue, getting to a point where we were able to make this arrangement, getting to a point where we were able to turn to some of the logistics of simply getting it done. And of course, we are delighted that we have found a way to get it done, and we’ll continue to work on the cases that still need resolution.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Shaun Tandon.
QUESTION: So I know you said at the beginning that you don’t see this as leading to any greater diplomatic effort with Russia. Could I expand on that? In terms of the conversations that were there, did it give you an idea about the Russians being serious about this in particular, about anything broader? Was – were other countries involved in this, or was it truly a bilateral aspect?
And also, you mentioned that Trevor Reed, he seemed to be in good spirits. Can you just expand on that in terms of the condition that he’s in? Do you think that he’s – his state is good at this point? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll say a couple words on this, and then I’ll see if Ned wants to add anything as well, or , on the last point there.
I would emphasize, as your question refers back to, that these conversations, these negotiations were on a discrete issue set. The discussions that led to today’s very good news were strictly limited to these topics, detainee topics. They were not part of broader diplomatic discussions; they were not the beginnings of discussions on other issues. We were delighted to see them come to fruition in this way, of course, but they are limited – they were limited and are limited to these particular issues.
, is there anything else you’d like to add on that?
MODERATOR: I think that’s a key point. I would just also add that this in no way will change our approach to supporting our Ukrainian partners and to holding the Kremlin accountable for its actions in Ukraine. But as my colleague has stressed multiple times, these topics weren’t broached. They were intended to be broached, these broader topics. This was about one thing and one thing only, and it was securing the release of an American who had been wrongfully detained in Russia for far too long.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Hey, I might just add also on the question about Trevor, he was in good spirits, as I said. But beyond that, out of respect to the privacy – to Trevor’s privacy and the privacy of his family, we’re going to let him and his family speak for themselves when they’re ready. It’s a good day, and he’s clearly in good spirits, but you’ll understand he’s had a difficult couple years here. So – and we ought to respect that as well. Thanks.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) doing this. I have a couple of questions. When do you expect Trevor to be home? And I understand that this was squarely – these discussions were squarely about him, but can you talk a little bit about the nature or, like, the demeanor of the Russians in these talks? Was there anything that was positive? Or what was it like that – was there anything that gave you any hope about a broader diplomatic thing? Because there are a number of channels all across the world for various reasons, but basically trying to put an end to this war – was there anything in these discussions that you thought could be a positive signal? And also, can you give us an update on Britney Griner’s case, please? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, thank you for those questions. I’ll hit them briefly and then see if wants to embellish.
So on the first one, Trevor is on his way home, on his way to the United States now. I’ll stay away from kind of particular operational details, but he is on his way now, which we’re obviously delighted about.
In terms of the conversations with the Russians on these issues, look, we have been saying for the past couple months, few months that where we can on issues of mutual interest, on issues of importance to us, we will try to find ways to continue conversations and, ideally, to get things done. And I think this represents one of those categories – inaction, so to speak. It was an issue that we had been discussing. As I have indicated before, many months ago, we were able to keep discussing and obviously able to get to a result about which we’re very happy with respect to Trevor Reed and about which more work needs to be done for other Americans.
But I think being able to get to this point is consistent with what we’ve been saying about trying to find areas where we still can have a constructive conversation without in any way – as and I have both emphasized – without in any way representing through this any change in our approach to just appalling violence that we continue to see in Ukraine.
And then I’ll just say briefly on the last question that we are very aware that there are other Americans held in Russia with Whelan, Griner, and others very much in our minds today, even as we are so happy for the news about Trevor Reed. And we will continue to work on and attempt to find ways to address other cases as best we can.
, do you want to add anything to that?
MODERATOR: The only thing I would add – and I would also invite my colleague to add on here – is that there is a key word in Roger Carstens’ title. He’s the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. And so when Roger Carstens, when his team are having discussions with foreign governments, they’re discussing one thing and one thing only. They’re discussing hostages and Americans who are detained against their will unjustly overseas. These discussions didn’t give us any additional pessimism about Russia’s course in Ukraine, neither did it give us any additional optimism, precisely because there wasn’t a discussion of anything beyond this very discrete, this very particular issue. And that was the successful release – successful as of today – of Trevor Reed.
, do you want to add anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, . You covered it right there.
MODERATOR: We’ll take a final question here. We’ll go to Missy Ryan.
QUESTION: What – I’m not sure what the limits of what you’re able to talk about in terms of the particulars of the transfers and all of that, but is the – Mr. Yaroshenko, is he now in Russian Government custody? Can you say whether this whole arrangement and negotiation involved any senior U.S. Government travel to Moscow? And also, could you just, if possible, clarify for us how many Americans are being held by the Russian Government? Obviously, you mentioned two individuals, but are there additional people that we should know about? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, Missy. So as you anticipated, I’ll stay a bit general here, but I will say that Mr. Yaroshenko is in Russian custody at this point, and that we were able to make this arrangement without additional senior-level travel to Moscow or to Russia. And I think I’ll probably leave it at that. , anything you want to add?
MODERATOR: Nope. I think you covered it.
, barring anything additional from you, we will bring this call to an end. Again, a reminder: This call was on background, attributable to senior administration officials, and the embargo is now lifted. Thanks, everyone, for dialing in. Thanks to fellow speakers.