WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden has asked Ecuador to turn down an asylum request from Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor charged with espionage for leaking classified intelligence, the country’s president said Saturday.
Rafael Correa said he had a “friendly and very cordial” conversation with Biden in which he told the vice president that Ecuador had not sought the awkward role of deciding whether to harbor an American fugitive, The Associated Press reported.
Correa said Ecuador cannot consider an asylum request until Snowden reaches Ecuador or one of its embassies. “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 was quoted as saying during a weekly television address in his country. “But the decision is ours to make.”
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed the two leaders had spoken by phone Friday and discussed Snowden’s case, but she declined to provide details. It is the highest-level conversation between the countries that has been publicly disclosed since Snowden began seeking asylum from Ecuador.
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Snowden, 30, is wanted by the United States for leaking details about U.S. communications-surveillance programs. The Justice Department has charged him with violating U.S. espionage laws. He is believed to be in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow after leaving Hong Kong last weekend.
Correa said his conversation with Biden was initiated by the vice president. The Ecuadorean leader praised Biden for being more courteous than U.S. senators who have threatened economic penalties if Ecuador doesn’t cooperate in the case.
The diplomatic situation has become more complicated in recent days by tensions between Ecuador’s government and Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Assange, who has been given asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London, appears to have had a role in obtaining a travel document for Snowden that bore the name, but not the signature, of the London consul.
The travel document could have helped Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked, leave Moscow. But Thursday, Correa declared the document invalid and said Ecuador would not consider an asylum request unless Snowden reached Ecuadorean territory.
Ecuador’s foreign press agency reported that diplomats from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador are to meet Monday in Moscow to discuss the Snowden case. If he traveled to Quito from Moscow on a commercial flight, Snowden would likely have to stop in Cuba and/or Venezuela.