June 30, 2013

Ecuador president: Snowden can't leave Moscow

The Associated Press

PORTOVIEJO, Ecuador — Edward Snowden is "under the care of the Russian authorities" and can't leave Moscow's international airport without their consent, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa told The Associated Press Sunday in an interview telegraphing the slim and diminishing possibility that the National Security Agency leaker will end up in Ecuador.

Correa portrayed Russia as entirely the master of Snowden's fate and said Ecuador is still awaiting an asylum request from Snowden before deciding its next moves.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has distanced himself from the case since Snowden arrived in Russia last week.

Putin insists the 30-year-old former NSA contractor remains in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport and that as long as he has not legally entered Russia, he is out of the Kremlin's control.

However, the Kremlin also said Sunday that it will take public opinion and the views of human rights activists into account when considering Snowden's case, a move that could lay the groundwork for him to seek asylum in Russia.

"This is the decision of Russian authorities," Correa told the AP. "He doesn't have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't. At this moment he's under the care of the Russian authorities. If he arrives at an Ecuadorean Embassy we'll analyze his request for asylum."

Last week, several members of Russia's Presidential Council for Human Rights spoke out in support of Snowden, saying he deserved to receive political asylum in the country of his choice and should not be handed over to the United States. And a handful of protesters picketed outside the Moscow airport in what appeared to be an orchestrated demonstration on Friday, holding signs reading "Edward, Russia is your second motherland" and "Russia is behind Snowden."

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Ekho Moskvy radio that while Snowden is not Russia's concern, the Kremlin is aware of the viewpoints of Russian experts and representatives of human rights organizations.

"Public opinion on the subject is very rich," Peskov said in the radio interview. "We are aware of this and are taking it into account."

Correa said he had no idea Snowden's intended destination was Ecuador when he fled Hong Kong for Russia last week. He said the Ecuadorean consul in London committed "a serious error" by not consulting officials in Ecuador's capital when the consul issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden. He said the consul would be punished, although he didn't specify how.

Correa said Snowden must assume responsibility if he broke U.S. laws, but added the broader legitimacy of Snowden's action must be taken into consideration. He said Ecuador would still consider an asylum request but only if Snowden is able to make it to Ecuador or an Ecuadorean Embassy to apply.

The U.S. is seeking the former NSA contractor's extradition for leaking secret documents that, among other things, detail U.S. surveillance of international online activity. On Sunday, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that classified documents taken by Snowden also revealed U.S. spies had allegedly bugged European Union offices.

Without entirely closing the door to Snowden, whom Ecuadorean authorities strongly praised earlier in the week, Correa appeared to be sending the message that it is unlikely Snowden will ever end up in Ecuador. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S. legal process and praised Vice President Joe Biden for what he described as a courteous and appreciated half-hour call about the Snowden case on Friday.

(Continued on page 2)

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