Edward Snowden’s request for asylum was spurned by nations from Switzerland to India as the U.S. pressed internationally for the return of the fugitive leaker of classified documents.
Three exceptions were Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, countries critical of U.S. policies that said they would consider taking him in. Snowden at last report remained in limbo at an airport in Moscow after withdrawing his request for sanctuary in Russia. He sought asylum instead in 20 other countries, according to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
U.S. officials have been contacting countries Snowden might approach for asylum or pass through on the way to a third country to provide “reasons why Mr. Snowden should be returned to the United States and face charges here,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.
“What we’ve been communicating is, of course, what we’ve been communicating publicly -- that Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information,” Psaki said at a briefing for reporters in Washington. “He is somebody that we would like to see returned to the United States, of course, and we are hopeful that, that will happen.”
The effort to repatriate Snowden is being led by Vice President Joseph Biden and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as the situation is being treated as a law-enforcement issue.
In a call to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, Biden didn’t just communicate the reasons Snowden should be returned. He also let Correa know that relations would “strongly deteriorate” if Snowden were allowed to come to the country, the Ecuadorean leader said in a June 29 radio address.
Biden’s call to Correa, which was confirmed by U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, sent a message to all countries that might consider granting asylum to Snowden. Psaki wouldn’t specify what other nations the U.S. had contacted or what exactly was said.
Snowden, a former worker for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., has said he was the source of leaks on top-secret U.S. programs that collect phone and Internet data. Russia won’t hand him over to the U.S. to face espionage charges because of human-rights concerns, according to President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
Snowden withdrew his application for asylum in Russia after Putin said July 1 that the American must stop hurting U.S. interests if he wants to remain there.
Wave of Rejections
“Theoretically, Snowden could stay in the Russian Federation, but with one condition -- that he give up his intention to carry out anti-American actions,” Peskov told reporters yesterday. “As far as we know, he refuses to do so.”
In a wave of rejections yesterday, Poland turned down Snowden’s asylum bid, saying it didn’t meet the requirements for political refuge, and India said it saw “no reason” to shelter him. Italy is “evaluating the situation” and will make a decision “very soon,” Ansa reported.
The Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Ireland and Austria said asylum applications are only considered when made by people inside their territory or at the border. Snowden, whose U.S. passport was revoked, can’t leave the Moscow airport transit zone without a new travel document.
Snowden’s asylum bid in Germany failed as he didn’t meet the requirements, according to a spokeswoman for the Federal Foreign Office who commented on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who held talks yesterday with Putin after a gas exporters’ conference in Moscow the day before, said he’ll consider any request from Snowden once he arrives back in Caracas after a stop today in Belarus.
Snowden’s Russian stay is becoming a “soap opera,” Maduro said in an interview with Russia’s RT television network that was also aired on Venezuelan state television.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales told RT television yesterday that his country is ready to consider Snowden’s request. Morales’s return to La Paz from the energy conference in Moscow was later delayed when his plane was denied permission to fly over France and Portugal amid speculation that Snowden was aboard.
The refusal of overflight rights required Morales’s plane to land in Vienna, according to spokesmen for the Austrian and Bolivian foreign ministries who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity citing their governments’ policies.
Snowden wasn’t aboard the plane, according to the Austrian official, who said local authorities controlled the passengers’ passports. Morales’s plane was still in Vienna as of early today, the official said.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said late yesterday that France and Portugal put Morales’s life at risk by not allowing his plane to fly through their airspace due to “baseless” rumors that the plane was carrying Snowden.
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his country is still considering asylum for Snowden although it’s not helping him leave Moscow. Patino told reporters in Quito last night that his own communications have been “hacked” and that his government found a hidden microphone in its embassy in London.
Patino also said Julian Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, should stop speaking on behalf of Ecuador. Assange, who has said his group is advising Snowden, has been holed up for a year in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden. He is wanted there on questioning about sexual-assault allegations, which he says were politically motivated.
The Snowden case has shaken international relations, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week warning China and Russia of “consequences” of their actions in spurning U.S. extradition requests. U.S. officials later shifted to a more conciliatory approach, and President Barack Obama said that “some useful conversations” have been held between the U.S. and Russia to resolve the issue.
European countries including France and Germany protested to the U.S. on the latest revelation stemming from Snowden’s releases after a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel that the U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropped and infiltrated computer networks of the European Union. The report cited classified documents in Snowden’s possession.
“The question is not which country will grant Mr. Snowden asylum,” WikiLeaks said yesterday on its Twitter Inc. account. “The question is which countries still have an independent executive.”
The anti-secrecy group pointed to a report by the Associated Press that cited three unidentified American officials as saying the Obama administration is trying to convince Russia to expel Snowden to the U.S. or to a third country, possibly in eastern Europe, that would then hand him over to U.S. authorities. The report is evidence that “the U.S. is plotting to render Snowden via eastern Europe to the U.S.,” WikiLeaks said.
WikiLeaks published a statement on July 1 that it attributed to Snowden in Moscow, which would be his first comments since leaving Hong Kong more than a week ago.
“The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon,” according to the statement attributed to Snowden. “Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person.”