Saudi Arabia did not mediate in Griner release, White House says

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The release of basketball star player Brittney Griner was negotiated between the United States and Russia only, the White House said on Thursday, denying a Saudi Arabia statement that it was involved.

"The only countries that negotiated this deal were the United States and Russia," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, when asked about Saudi Arabia's role. "There was no mediation involved."

The United Arab Emirates president and Saudi crown prince said in a joint statement Thursday that they led mediation efforts that secured Griner's release from a Russian penal colony.

Griner was exchanged for Viktor Bout, a onetime Russian weapons dealer who had been convicted in the United States and imprisoned for 10 years. The exchange took place in the United Arab Emirates at Abu Dhabi airport, a U.S. official said.

"We are grateful for the UAE ... for facilitating the use of their territory for the exchange to take place,” Jean-Pierre said. “We are also grateful to other countries including Saudi Arabia” that raised the issue of detained Americans with the Russian government, she said.

Griner, 32, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Women's National Basketball Association's Phoenix Mercury, was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport in February when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia, were found in her luggage. She was sentenced on Aug. 4 to nine years in a penal colony on charges of possessing and smuggling drugs.

Reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Grant McCool

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