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Russia’s Lavrov says Moscow will propose time for call with Blinken on prisoners

TASHKENT (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow would soon propose a time for a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which Blinken has said he wants to discuss an exchange of prisoners held in Russian and U.S. jails.

Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to obtain the release of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, both detained in Russia.

A source said that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, jailed in the United States, as part of such a deal.

Blinken and Lavrov have not spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Families of the U.S. detainees have been increasing pressure on President Joe Biden, most recently in the case of two-time Olympic gold medallist Griner, who was arrested on drugs charges at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17.

Lavrov told a news conference that talks on prisoner exchanges had been taking place since a summit in Geneva last year where presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden had agreed to nominate officials to look into the issue.

He said his ministry was not involved in that, but “nevertheless, I will listen to what he (Blinken) has to say”.

Speaking during a trip to Uzbekistan, Lavrov said he would talk to Blinken when he returned to his office.

“It’s clear this is unlikely to work out today. But in the coming days we will offer our American colleagues a convenient date,” he said.

The State Department did not comment on Lavrov’s remarks. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said it was “gratifying” to hear that Lavrov was willing to hear a proposal for the prisoners’ release.

“We hope that the Russian side will take it seriously. If he’s saying publicly that he will do that, that’s a good sign,” Kirby told reporters.

(Reporting by Reuters with additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; writing by Mark Trevelyan, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Guy Faulconbridge and Hugh Lawson)

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