June 24, 2013

White House urges Moscow to send Snowden back to U.S.

The Associated Press

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A TV screen shows a news report of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, at a shopping mall in Hong Kong Sunday, June 23, 2013. The U.S. assumes NSA leaker Edward Snowden remains in Russia, and officials are working to have him returned to America to face criminal charges. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)


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The U.S. government's dual lines of diplomacy – harsh with China, hopeful with the Russians – came just days after Obama met separately with leaders of both countries in an effort to close gaps on some of the major disputes facing them. Additionally, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. has made demands to "a series of governments," including Ecuador, that Snowden be barred from any international travel other than to be returned to the U.S.

Ventrell said he did not know if that included Iceland. Icelandic officials have confirmed receiving an informal request for asylum conveyed by WikiLeaks, which has strong links to the tiny North Atlantic nation. But authorities there have insisted that Snowden must be on Icelandic soil before making a formal request.

Ecuador's president and foreign minister declared that national sovereignty and universal principles of human rights – not U.S. prodding – would govern any decision they might make on granting asylum to Snowden.

Ecuador has rejected some previous U.S. efforts at cooperation and has been helping Assange avoid prosecution by allowing him to stay at its embassy in London.

Formally, Snowden's application for Ecuadoran asylum remains only under consideration. But Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino made little effort to disguise his government's position. He told reporters in Hanoi that the choice Ecuador faced in hosting Snowden was "betraying the citizens of the world or betraying certain powerful elites in a specific country."

President Rafael Correa said on Twitter that "we will take the decision that we feel most suitable, with absolute sovereignty." Correa, who took office in 2007, is a frequent critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and is an ally of leftist president Evo Morales of Bolivia. Correa also had aligned himself with Venezuela's late leader, Hugo Chavez, a chief U.S. antagonist in the region for years.

In April 2011 the Obama administration expelled the Ecuadorean ambassador to Washington after the U.S. envoy to Ecuador, Heather Hodges, was expelled for making corruption allegations about senior Ecuadorean police authorities in confidential documents disclosed by WikiLeaks.

American experts said the U.S. will have limited, if any, influence to persuade governments to turn over Snowden if he heads to Cuba or nations in South America that are seen as hostile to Washington.

"There's little chance Ecuador would give him back" if that country agrees to take him, said James F. Jeffrey, a former ambassador and career diplomat.

Steve Saltzburg, a former senior Justice Department prosecutor, said it's little surprise that China refused to hand over Snowden, and he predicted Russia won't either.

"We've been talking the talk about how both these counties abuse people who try to express their First Amendment rights, so I think that neither country is going to be very inclined to help us very much," said Saltzburg, now a law professor at George Washington University in Washington. "That would be true with Cuba if he ends up there."

The United States formally sought Snowden's extradition but was rebuffed by Hong Kong officials who said the U.S. request did not fully comply with their laws. The Justice Department rejected that claim, saying its request met all of the requirements of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Hong Kong.

Snowden had been believed to have been in a transit area in Moscow's airport where he would not be considered as entering Russian territory. Assange declined to discuss where Snowden was but said he was safe. The U.S. has revoked his passport.

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