Obama Administration Seeks to Ease Tensions Over Snowden

The Obama administration pursued efforts to ease tensions over Edward Snowden after more confrontational tactics failed to get Hong Kong and then Russia to return the leaker of U.S. surveillance secrets.

The administration is “having conversations with Russian government officials” to make its case for extraditing Snowden to face espionage charges, White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday. Snowden was last reported to be in limbo in the transit zone of a Moscow airport after initially fleeing from the U.S. to Hong Kong.

The case roiled international relations after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this week warned China and Russia of “consequences” for their actions and ridiculed Snowden for choosing those countries “as assistants in his flight from justice because they’re such powerful bastions of Internet freedom.”

Kerry has since said that “we’re not looking for a confrontation.” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One yesterday as President Barack Obama traveled to Africa that the administration agrees with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin “that we don’t want the situation to harm our relations.”

Putin has said he hopes Snowden’s case “won’t affect the business-like nature of our relations with the U.S.” and that the fugitive can’t be turned over because Russia and the U.S. don’t have an extradition treaty.

No Passport

Snowden “is a free man, and the sooner he selects his final destination, the better it will be both for us and for him,” Putin said on June 25 during a trip to Finland. “As a transit passenger, he has the right to buy a ticket and fly wherever he wants.”

That assumption was challenged when the Interfax news agency reported that Snowden can’t buy a ticket because the U.S. State Department revoked his passport.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said yesterday in Washington that his department could issue a single-use document allowing Snowden’s return to the U.S. “That’s the kind of travel document we’re prepared to issue an individual accused of serious crimes,” Ventrell said.

Also in doubt was the choice of destinations other than the U.S. that might be available to Snowden, the former worker for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. who disclosed top-secret U.S. National Security Agency programs that collect phone and Internet data.

While Ecuador has said Snowden has requested asylum there, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said yesterday that his nation will take its time and will weigh risks to its trade relations with the U.S. before deciding the matter.

Assange’s Asylum

Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and a Snowden supporter, has been holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than a year after the Latin American country granted him asylum.

“It took us two months to make the decision on the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make that decision sooner this time,” Patino said through a translator in Kuala Lumpur yesterday when asked how long his country will take to review Snowden’s bid.

Ventrell, the State Department spokesman, said on June 24 that the U.S. has “been in touch with Ecuador” and “we’ve made our point clear that, as I said, this is somebody who is wanted on criminal felony charges here in the United States and we’d like him returned to the United States to face justice.”

Ecuadorean exports to the U.S. fell to $1.01 billion in April from $1.14 billion a year earlier, according to U.S. Census data. Ecuador would lose at least 40,000 jobs if trade preferences that are about to expire aren’t renewed by the U.S. Congress, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the U.S. Nathalie Cely said last year.