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Saudi crown prince made 'personal intervention' to secure Griner's release but US denies Gulf mediation

White House denies Saudi Arabia and UAE played a mediation role in helping get WBNA star Brittney Griner released
US-Saudi relations have been tense under the Biden administration, most notably after an October decision by the Saudi Arabia-led Opec+ to cut oil production by two million barrels a day.
US-Saudi relations have been tense under the Biden administration, most notably after an October decision by the Saudi Arabia-led Opec+ to cut oil production by two million barrels a day (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman extended "personal mediation efforts" to facilitate the release of American basketball star Brittney Griner in a Russia-US prisoner swap, even though the US has denied that Riyadh played any mediation role.

"I am aware of his highness's personal efforts in relation to the basketball player and his engagement and personal intervention to facilitate this release," Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told reporters in Riyadh on Thursday.

"As for what others say, I cannot comment on that."

Washington has denied any mediation by either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, saying the talks were between the United States and Russia after a joint Saudi-UAE statement that said the UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Saudi crown prince led mediation efforts.

Griner was released following a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer, who was serving a 25-year sentence in the United States. Bout, 55, was one of the world's most wanted men, selling weapons to rebel groups and warlords internationally, before his arrest in 2012. 

The swap involving Griner and Russian citizen Bout took place at an airport in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

Biden had thanked the UAE "for helping us facilitate Brittney’s return, because that’s where she landed" on her way back to the US.

US-Saudi relations have been tense under the Biden administration, most notably after an October decision by the Saudi Arabia-led Opec+ to cut oil production by two million barrels a day. The US condemned the decision and said that it would review its relationship with Riyadh.

Despite vowing consequences for Saudi Arabia's actions regarding Opec+, which the US said was a move that aligned with Russian interests, the Biden administration has not undergone a change in its relationship with the kingdom.

Officials told NBC News that since gas prices have not skyrocketed as they had feared they would, the White House's initial bitterness about the decision subsided.

"There is a recognition that as goes Saudi, so goes the Gulf," a US official told NBC. "We need the security partnership."

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