Saturday, June 29, 2013

Biden asks Ecuador’s president to reject NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s asylum request

Biden asks Ecuador’s president to reject NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s asylum request

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The Friday phone call between Correa and Biden — it’s the highest-level conversation between the U.S. and Ecuador to be disclosed since Snowden began seeking asylum — added to the confusion about Snowden’s status. Facing espionage charges in the U.S., Snowden is believed to be holed up in a Moscow airport’s transit zone and seeking safe passage to Ecuador, the country seen as likeliest to shelter America’s most wanted fugitive.
Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, has been given asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Correa said he had a “friendly and very cordial” conversation with Biden, and told the vice president that Ecuador hadn’t sought to be put in the situation of deciding whether to harbor an American justice-dodger. He said Ecuador can’t consider the asylum request until Snowden is on Ecuadorean soil.
“The moment that he arrives, if he arrives, the first thing is we’ll ask the opinion of the United States, as we did in the Assange case with England,” Correa said. “But the decision is ours to make.”
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed that the two leaders spoke by phone Friday and discussed Snowden, but she wouldn’t disclose any details about the conversation.
A staunch critic of the U.S., Correa rebuked the Obama administration for hypocrisy, invoking the case of brothers Roberto and William Isaias, bankers whose extradition from the U.S. Correa said Ecuador has been seeking. “Let’s be consistent. Have rules for everyone, because that is a clear double-standard here,” he said.
The leftist leader sought to direct attention away from Snowden’s actions and back to the U.S. spying secrets he exposed, summoning a theme he’s invoked to the delight of his strongest backers since Snowden, a former NSA contractor, revealed the agency’s massive Internet and phone surveillance to two newspapers, fleeing all the while from Hong Kong to Moscow in evasion of U.S. authorities.
“The really grave thing is what Snowden has reported,” Correa said. “He will have to assume his responsibilities, but the grave thing is his reporting of the biggest massive spy operation in the history of humanity, inside and outside the United States.”
Ecuadorean officials have acknowledged its embassy in London issued Snowden a letter of safe passage that calls on other countries to allow him to travel to asylum in Ecuador. But Ecuador’s secretary of political management, Betty Tola, said the letter was invalid because it was issued without central government approval in Quito, the capital.
Obama and his aides have tempered their rhetoric about Snowden in recent days after more heated attempts to pressure China and Russia over his extradition raised tensions with those nations, threatening to undercut cooperation with the two major powers on other issues.
But Ecuador has seemed to delight in tweaking the U.S. over the issue, accusing America of human rights violations and blowing off warnings about how the U.S. might respond if Ecuador doesn’t cooperate.
After the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., on Wednesday threatened an effort to block renewal of Ecuador’s tariff benefits on hundreds of millions of dollars in trade, Ecuador preemptively renounced the benefits themselves, claiming the trade deal had become “a new instrument of blackmail.”
As for Biden, Correa suggested it wasn’t personal. He praised the vice president for being more courteous than “those badly behaved and confused ones in the Senate who threaten our country.”
Torres reported from Quito, Ecuador.
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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US Urges Ecuador to Deny Snowden Asylum

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has spoken to Ecuador's president about Edward Snowden, the fugitive former intelligence contractor who is seeking asylum in Ecuador.
President Rafael Correa says Biden asked him to reject the asylum request from Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for leaking information about secret surveillance programs.
President Correa revealed details of his conversation with Biden during his weekly address on Saturday. Correa said he spoke to the vice president on Friday.
White House officials say Biden discussed Snowden's case with Correa but declined to provide details.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then disclosed key documents about the surveillance programs being conducted by the secretive National Security Agency to thwart terrorism.
Earlier this month he flew to Moscow and is believed to be staying in a transit zone at the airport, while seeking asylum in Ecuador.
Officials in Ecuador have said they cannot consider any asylum request from Snowden unless he is in the country.
Ecuador granted refuge to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains in the country's embassy in London.
President Correa said what the U.S. should do is focus more on explaining its surveillance programs than on catching Snowden.
On Friday, Snowden's father, Lonnie, told NBC's Today show that he believed his son, under certain conditions, would be willing to return home to face espionage charges.
Lonnie Snowden said his son might be willing to return if the U.S. promised to let him be free in advance of the trial, not prohibit him from speaking publicly about the case and let him choose where he would be tried.
The elder Snowden said he believed his son had broken U.S. law, but added that he did not think his son was guilty of treason.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

U.S. asked Ecuador not to give Snowden asylum: Correa

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By Brian Ellsworth
QUITO | Sat Jun 29, 2013 4:14pm EDT
QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said on Saturday the United States had asked him not to grant asylum for former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in a "cordial" telephone conversation he held with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Correa said he vowed to respect Washington's opinion in evaluating the request. The Andean nation says it cannot begin processing Snowden's request unless he reaches Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for leaking details about U.S. communications surveillance programs, is believed to still be at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after leaving Hong Kong.
Praising Biden's good manners in contrast to "brats" in the U.S. Congress who had threatened to cut Ecuador's trade benefits over the Snowden issue, Correa said during his weekly television broadcast: "He communicated a very courteous request from the United States that we reject the (asylum) request."
Biden initiated the phone call, Correa said.
"When he (Snowden) arrives on Ecuadorean soil, if he arrives ... of course, the first opinions we will seek are those of the United States," Correa said.
A senior White House official traveling with President Barack Obama in Africa on Saturday confirmed the conversation had taken place.
The case has been a major embarrassment for the Obama administration, which is now facing withering criticism around the world for the espionage program known as Prism that Snowden revealed.
A German magazine on Saturday, citing secret documents, reported that the United States bugged European Union offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, which will likely add to the furor over U.S. spying efforts.
Correa has for years been at loggerheads with Washington on issues ranging from the war on drugs to a long-running environmental dispute with U.S. oil giant Chevron.
A leftist economist who received a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Correa denied he was seeking to perturb relations and said he had "lived the happiest days of my life" in the United States.
But he said the United States has not heeded Ecuador's request to extradite citizens sought by the law, including bankers he said have already been sentenced.
"There's a clear double standard here. If the United States is pursuing someone, other countries have to hand them over," Correa said. "But there are so many fugitives from our justice system (in the United States) ... and they don't return them."
Correa said Ecuador's London consulate issued Snowden an unauthorized safe-passage document, potentially as a result of communication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is living in the London embassy after receiving asylum last year.
Assange said on Monday that Snowden had received refugee papers from the Ecuador government to secure him safe passage as he fled Hong Kong for Russia. Correa's government had originally denied this.
A "safe-pass" document published by U.S. Spanish-language media network Univision which circulated widely online purported to offer Snowden safe passage for the purpose of political asylum. The United States has revoked his passport.
"The truth is that the consul (overstepped) his role and will face sanction," Correa said during the broadcast.
The decision was "probably in communication with Julian Assange and out of desperation that Mr. Snowden was going to be captured, but this was without the authorization of the Ecuadorean government."
Correa's critics have in recent days accused him of letting Assange take charge of crucial foreign policy matters.
Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for questioning over sexual assault allegations, has not been able to leave the London embassy because Britain will not give him safe passage.
Snowden's lack of a valid travel document appears to be one of the primary obstacles to his leaving the transit area of the Moscow international airport. Without a passport, he cannot board a commercial flight or move through airport immigration, according to diplomacy experts.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino declined on Thursday to comment on whether Ecuador would send a government plane to pick Snowden up. But Correa has indicated he does not have plans to provide Snowden with transport to an embassy.
Correa scoffed at reports that he himself had been aware that the document was issued or was involved in the decision.
"They think I'm so dumb that I ordered our consul in London to write a safe passage document for a U.S. citizen traveling from Hong Kong to Russia. That's simply absurd," he said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal in Johannesburg; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Vicki Allen and Sandra Maler)
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