Vice President Joe Biden called Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, asking him to reject an asylum request made by fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, it was revealed today.
‘They did discuss Snowden, but I don’t have additional details,’ Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama in Africa.
It’s the highest-level conversation between the U.S. and Ecuador that has been publicly disclosed since Ecuador began considering the possibility of offering Snowden a sanctuary.
During his regular Saturday television appearance, President Correa spoke about his phone conversation with Mr Biden, stating that no decision will be made on Showden until he sets foot on Ecuadorian soil, be it in the country itself or in one of its embassies, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Mr Correa added that the NSA leaker ‘will have to assume his own responsibilities’ for blowing the whistle on secret programs the U.S. intelligence agencies have been using to spy on foreign and domestic targets.
Ecuador’s leader also pointed out that the world’s attention should be on America’s clandestine data collection scheme rather than Snowden’s fate.
Earlier this week, Correa said that a letter of safe passage that was allegedly issued to the 29-year-old NSA hacker by an Ecuadorian diplomat stationed in London was void.
Since fleeing Hong Kong to Russia last weekend, Snowden had his U.S. passport revoked, and he is believed to be still holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport.
Mr Correa also promised that the first ones to be consulted on Snowden’s asylum request ‘would be the U.S. as we did in the [Julian] Assange case with England.’ He was referring to the elusive WikiLeaks founder, who has been staying in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly a year.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Friday that his government had held talks with Russian officials about when and how Showden, who has no travel documents, could leave the terminal where he has been staying for a week in a state of legal limbo.
Earlier this week, Ecuador revealed it could take months to decide whether to grant asylum to Snowden. He is currently in a transit area of a Moscow airport but it is believed he is hopeful Ecuador will protect him.
Foreign Minister Patino compared Snowden’s case to that of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has found refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
‘It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time,’ Patino told reporters.
Snowden, who is charged with violating American espionage laws, fled Hong Kong last Sunday and flew to Russia.
Russia only acknowledged his arrival only on Tuesday, when President Vladimir Putin said Snowden was still in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that he remained there on Wednesday.
Snowden had also booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight on Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he failed to board the plane.
Despite U.S. officials called for Snowden to be extradited immediately, but Russia said it would not as they have no extradition treaty with the country and Snowden has not committed a crime in Russia.
‘He hasn’t violated any of our laws, he hasn’t crossed our border, he is in the transit zone of the airport and has the right to fly in any direction he wants,’ Lavrov said.
Asked if Ecuador would provide protection to Snowden while considering his request for asylum, Patino said through a translator that if Snowden ‘goes to the embassy, then we will make a decision.’
Patino refused to say what criteria his government would use, but added that it would ‘consider all these risks’, including whether it could hurt trade with the U.S. and damage Ecuador’s economy.
WikiLeaks gave a terse update on Snowden’s condition earlier on Wednesday, saying in a statement posted to Twitter that Snowden was ‘well’.