Ecuador Hints at Slow Process on Snowden Asylum
By David M. Herszenhorn and Rick Gladstone, NY Times, June 26, 2013
MOSCOW—Ecuador signaled on Wednesday that it may deliberate slowly on the asylum application from Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive former security contractor wanted in the United States, raising the possibility that he could spend weeks in legal limbo as he plots his next steps inside a Moscow airport transit area.
Ecuador’s approach was conveyed in statements by its foreign minister and from its embassy in Washington as the Obama administration sought to further lighten a cold war atmosphere with Russia, which said on Tuesday that it would not extradite Mr. Snowden to face criminal charges in the United States.
Mr. Snowden, 30, whose revelations of American surveillance activities abroad have angered the Obama administration and raised a debate about governmental invasion of privacy, remained out of sight on Wednesday. It was his fourth day in a restricted international transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, as speculation intensified over when he would leave and where he would go.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, suggested at a news conference in Malaysia that his government could take months to decide whether to grant Mr. Snowden’s asylum request, and that his country’s relations with the United States would figure in that decision.
It was unclear whether Ecuador’s deliberations could affect Mr. Snowden’s odyssey in his attempt to stay ahead of his American pursuers, who revoked his passport and sought to have him arrested in Hong Kong on charges of violating espionage laws before he fled on Sunday on a flight to Moscow.
Ecuador also said on Wednesday that the United States must “submit its position” regarding Mr. Snowden to the Ecuadorean government in writing. In a statement on the Web site of its embassy in Washington, Ecuador said its decision would take “human rights obligations into consideration as well.”
Discussions between American and Russian officials continued on Wednesday, and the White House further softened its language in the hope of an outcome that does not further damage ties between the two countries.
"We agree with President Putin that we don’t want the situation to harm our relations," said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One as President Obama left for a weeklong trip to Africa, Mr. Carney expressed empathy with Russia’s predicament as it decides how to handle the situation, given that it has no extradition treaty with the United States. “We certainly understand the fact that Mr. Snowden chose to travel to Moscow, chose to travel to Russia, creates issues that the Russian government has to consider,” he said.
He added that the United States still wanted Moscow to expel Mr. Snowden and that “we believe there is a clear, legal basis to do so, based on his travel documents and the indictment against him.”
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said at a news conference on Wednesday in Moscow that Russia was eager to see Mr. Snowden leave, echoing comments by Mr. Putin on Tuesday.
"Mr. Snowden is a free man," Mr. Lavrov said. "He did not break the laws of the Russian Federation and did not cross the border. He is located in the transit area of the airport and has the right to fly in any direction he wants. And, as the president of Russia said, the sooner that happens, the better."