(CNN) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday promised not to meet with President Joe Biden for the families of Americans held hostage and wrongly imprisoned abroad, but he tried to reassure them that the administration is making every effort to protect theirs Bringing loved ones back home, according to a senior State Department official and sources familiar with the video call.
While the families really appreciated the conversation with the top US diplomat, some said they still hoped to meet with the president and others left frustrated at what they see as a lack of urgency and concrete action by the government.
“Stop meeting with us to check the box and start doing things that are actually changing things for our families,” said Alexandra Forseth, whose father, Alirio Zambrano, and uncle Jose Luis Zambrano Are part of the “CITGO 6” who have been arrested in Venezuela since 2017.
Zambrano said she feels “gassed,” Zambrano said she’s heard the same reassurances she’s heard for years about prioritizing her loved ones’ cases, but feels nothing is being done.
“Families were very direct”
In a readout of the call with the families, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “advised families that President Biden is aware of the cases of their loved ones and is committed to rescuing all U.S. citizens who are being held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned.” to bring home. The call, which lasted more than an hour, did not go into specific details due to the sheer number of participants – more than 50 – and privacy considerations.
The senior State Department official said that “the families were very direct on the call,” noting that “they have every right to be.”
“Some have asked specific questions about – What is the status of my case? Do you know of any particular person’s health condition?” said the officer. “We hear X, Y and Z from this particular person, is the embassy busy? Do you address this with your counterpart? Is the President following it?”
The official told CNN Blinken has advised families that “a meeting (with Biden) is not required to bring these cases to his attention and certainly does not require us to take specific action,” and “repeats.” assures them” that Biden is fully committed because Blinken has held talks with the President on the cases. The Secretary of State also cited that White House planning was out of his power and said he would be in touch with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, the senior State Department official said.
A second senior State Department official said Blinken also spoke to Cherelle Griner, wife of incarcerated WNBA star Brittney Griner, on Wednesday. The official gave no further details on the call, which came after a State Department error meant the couple could not speak on their anniversary.
“People are engaged, if not productive”
Neda Sharghi, whose brother Emad Shargi has been unjustly detained in Iran since 2018, told CNN, “We were grateful to get the call.”
“Our family will continue to request a meeting with the President to discuss Emad’s case, as we have for some time,” she said, adding that the Bring Our Families Home campaign — a coalition of family members of those unlawfully detained — a letter was sent to Biden this week — “will continue to urge the administration to meet with families and prioritize hostages, act with urgency and use all available tools.”
David Whelan, whose brother Paul Whelan has been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia since 2018, said that “to the extent that it represents the State Department and White House remaining fully engaged in wrongful detention cases, it is a good decision.”
“It’s helpful to hear from him directly about some of the broader issues and concerns our loved ones face, as despite the nuances of each case and each country affected, there are universal hurdles,” he said. “The amount of time Minister Blinken devotes to these calls and the cases gives me renewed hope that people are engaged, if not productive.”
However, Whelan noted that he “didn’t come up with anything that made me think Paul’s case was any closer to resolution.”
Cristina Vadell, whose father Tomeu Vadell has been jailed in Venezuela as part of “CITGO 6” since 2017, told CNN she was grateful for Blinken’s involvement.
“He shows his commitment by making time for the families and I hope that commitment to bringing Tomeu and all his loved ones home translates into more results in the near future,” she said.
However, she also noted that she believes that “frustration lingers until your loved one is no longer unjustly deprived of their liberty.”
“Every day is precious. Why wait another day to make a decision that will set someone free?” she said.
After the call, Forseth added, “Every time we have one of these meetings, these officers are like, ‘I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in your shoes,’ and ‘I never will,’ and “It must be terrible.” “
“Rather than pretending you can’t imagine it, why don’t you try it and then ask yourself, do you think you’re doing everything you can and do you think you’re being honest with yourself, how much people do Suffer? because of your inaction?’” she said.
“We should examine all available options”
The first senior State Department official told CNN Blinken made the call — the second of his to which all families were invited — because he felt it was important given the focus on some of these cases over the past few weeks and he wanted around those “to describe intense government efforts to continue to push them home across the board, no matter the country or case.”
Blinken didn’t take the possibility of prisoner swaps off the table during the call, according to the first official and known sources, but conveyed that such decisions would ultimately have to be made by the president.
“His general approach is that we should examine every option available, and that’s what he’s ordered Roger Carstens and the SPEHA team to do – hold back no option you think could secure the release of an American, two Americans, whatever the number is in a particular country,” said the first senior State Department official, using the acronym for the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.
The official also acknowledged that Blinken has concerns about the “moral hazard” of prisoner swaps and the possibility that they would encourage more incarcerations of Americans abroad.
The CNN Wire
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