The US government on Monday strongly discouraged former NBA player Dennis Rodman from traveling to Russia to help secure the release of detained WNBA star Brittney Griner – a trip that Rodman himself separately clarified is not not expected, reversing a previous comment.
The back-and-forth comes from five-time NBA champion Rodman, who initially announced last weekend that he was planning to visit Russia based on comments he made to NBC News while dining. at a restaurant in Washington, DC.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help this girl,” Rodman told NBC News on Saturday. “I’m trying to go this week.”
Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February 17, was convicted of drug trafficking earlier this month and sentenced to nine years in prison after vape cartridges containing hash oil – a substance illegal in Russia – were found in his luggage. at the airport.
A State Department spokesman, Ned Price, told ABC News during a Monday press briefing that if Rodman travels to Russia, “he will not be traveling on behalf of the United States government.”
“We believe that anything other than further negotiation through the established channel is likely to complicate and impede these release efforts,” Price added.
Amid scrutiny of his comments, Rodman told ABC News on Monday that he has no current plans to travel to Russia.
Rodman previously sought to make an impact on US foreign policy as an informal diplomat of sorts amid the US’ rocky relationship with North Korea.
Rodman visited Singapore in June 2018 ahead of President Donald Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is a huge fan of the Chicago Bulls.
Although Rodman has not met the dictator, whom he considers a “friend”, he was one of the few westerners to have met him in Pyongyang in the past.
Rodman does not need permission from the United States to travel to Russia, but does need a visa from Moscow to travel to the country.
However, the State Department strongly discourages US citizens from traveling to Russia amid the war in Ukraine, issuing a “Level 4 – Do Not Travel” advisory that was updated on August 15.
“We have also provided very clear advice to American citizens – due to a number of threats, not the least of which is the threat of wrongful detention – that Americans should not travel to Russia,” said Price Monday. “That has been our message to private Americans at all levels.”
Price’s warning came after a senior Biden administration official discouraged Rodman from traveling to Russia in a statement provided to ABC News on Sunday, referencing the US travel advisory.
At her trial, which began in July, Griner said she was guilty of drug charges and said she did not intend to break Russian law, but the cartridges were left in his bag by accident.
The US classified Griner’s case as ‘wrongfully detained’ in Russia in May and the Biden administration is working to negotiate the WNBA star’s release, as well as the release of detained US citizen Paul Whelan. in Russia since 2019.
On July 29, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters he had had a “frank and direct conversation” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a US proposal to trade the merchant of weapons condemned Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner and Whelan.
Earlier this month, Russian officials confirmed that those talks had taken place.
Asked about the status of the negotiations, Price said US interests are “best served if these discussions take place in private,” but stressed that “this is something we continue to work on with the utmost urgency.”
“I said last week that we have entered into discussions with our Russian counterparts about this. Those discussions are ongoing,” Price added. “We have made it very clear, as we have done publicly, that we have put forward a substantial proposal, we call it, for the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.”
ABC News’ Katie Conway and Tanya Stukalova contributed to this report.