Washington - US Embassy officials in Moscow on Wednesday were given permission to meet with Paul Whelan, an American arrested last week after being accused of visiting Russia on a "spy mission."
No details were immediately available of the meeting, which came shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they expected to have consular access to Whelan "within the next hours."
A few hours later, the Foreign Ministry told Russian media that access had been granted on Wednesday afternoon in Moscow. It was not clear how long the visit lasted, or what his condition is.
"The family received a notification from the State Department today that consular access was granted today," said a person familiar with the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.
Whelan's first visit by U.S. Embassy officials came six days after he was arrested, which exceeds the 72-hour time frame laid out in the Vienna Convention.
Speaking to reporters in Brasilia, where he attended the inauguration of the new president, Pompeo also said the United States will demand Whelan's release if it is determined his arrest was unjust.
"We've made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he's been accused of and if the detention is not appropriate we will demand his immediate return," he said.
Whelan, a 48-year-old former Marine, was in Moscow last week for the wedding of a fellow Marine on Dec. 28, his family has said, the same day he was detained by Russia's domestic security service.
"We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being," his family said in a statement. "His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected."
Whelan is the corporate security director for BorgWarner, an automotive parts supplier based in Auburn Hills, Mich. He has visited the country several times and is said to speak passable Russian.
Russian officials announced his arrest on Monday, and the ensuing news accounts provided his family's first notice of what had happened to him.
Relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated over a series of events, from its aggression toward Ukraine to Russian interference in elections in the United States and other democracies around the world.
The arrest of Maria Butina, who confessed to being a Russian agent, has raised suspicions that Whelan's detention is payback or an attempt to arrange a prisoner swap. If convicted, Whelan could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
The Washington Post