U.S. Keeps Pressure on Russia to Expel Snowden

The Obama administration is pressing Russia to expel fugitive Edward Snowden as the former intelligence contractor appealed to Russia for asylum, saying he would comply with its conditions.

Snowden’s case is being raised at the highest levels, White House press secretary Jay Carney said. President Barack Obama spoke about it with Russian President Vladimir Putin today in a previously scheduled call.

“The two leaders noted the importance of U.S.-Russian bilateral relations and discussed a range of security and bilateral issues, including the status of Mr. Edward Snowden,” according to a White House statement.

Prior to the statement U.S. officials ratcheted up their criticism of Russia for allowing Snowden, 30, to meet today with human-rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

“Providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality,” Carney said today. State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki said the U.S. was “disappointed that Russian officials” facilitated the meeting in the Moscow airport transit area where Snowden is marooned.

Snowden’s presence in the airport has been the latest irritant in U.S.-Russia relations already frayed by the Obama administration’s criticism of Moscow’s human-rights record, the case of an alleged U.S. spy caught in that city in May, and the two nations’ starkly different views of the civil war in Syria.

St. Petersburg Stop

The former Cold War foes have converging interests on issues from the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran to non-proliferation and counterterrorism. Carney told reporters today that Obama still plans to attend the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5, where he is next scheduled to meet Putin.

“Our position also remains that we don’t believe this should and we don’t want it to do harm to our important relationship with Russia,” Carney said of the Snowden case.

Snowden, a former worker for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., has been charged with three felonies, including espionage, in connection with the disclosure of top-secret U.S. National Security Agency programs that collect phone and Internet data. The administration has insisted that he is “not a whistle-blower, he’s not a human-rights activist,” as Psaki said today, but a criminal.

Routes Blocked

Snowden has been in the transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23, when he arrived from Hong Kong, where he’d gone before his revelations became public. Activists who met him at the airport today said he is seeking to stay in Russia while routes to Latin America are blocked.

An official from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow called one of the activists who attended the airport meeting with Snowden “to convey our position” that he is a criminal, Psaki said. She made clear the U.S. displeasure with Russia.

“They have the ability and the opportunity to do the right thing and help return Mr. Snowden to the United States,” Psaki said. She also criticized Russian officials for allowing Snowden to meet with the activists.

“We obviously don’t think this was a proper forum or a proper elevation of him,” she said. “Russian authorities clearly helped assist the ability of attendees to participate in this. That is of concern to us.”

Putin’s Condition

Still photos and video available on the YouTube Inc. website show Snowden looking animated and healthy in the meeting with the activists. Snowden said he wanted to apply for asylum and was willing to abide by the condition that he stop leaking information, a requirement Putin established when Snowden asked for such sanctuary on first arriving in Russia.

Putin has said his government was “completely surprised” by Snowden’s arrival and has defied U.S. calls to extradite the fugitive. The Russian government’s position is that it can’t extradite Snowden because he is technically not in Russian territory while he resides in the airport’s international transit area.

Obama administration officials have repeatedly said that “any country or government that gives Mr. Snowden asylum or allows him to transit through, that there would be some serious consequences for, grave consequences in their relationship with the United States.”