Biden Asks Ecuador's President to Nix Snowden Asylum Request

Image: Biden Asks Ecuador's President to Nix Snowden Asylum Request

Saturday, 29 Jun 2013 09:20 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Vice President Biden personally asked Ecuador to reject the asylum request of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the president of the small South American country said on Saturday.

“The moment that he arrives — if he arrives, the first thing is we'll ask the opinion of the United States, as we did in the Assange case with England," Rafael Correa said in his weekly television address. “But the decision is ours to make."

Latest: Is Snowden a Hero or Traitor – Vote in Urgent Poll

Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy group, WikiLeaks, has been given asylum in Ecuador's embassy in London.

The Friday telephone conversation with Biden represented the highest-level talks between the U.S. and Ecuador since Snowden began seeking asylum.

It also comes as asylum options appear to be dwindling for the former NSA contractor, who disclosed the agency’s broad telephone and Internet surveillance programs, as he seeks to avoid U.S. charges of espionage and theft of government property.

Biden’s call followed President Barack Obama’s remarks on Thursday that he had not telephoned world leaders on Snowden because he “shouldn't have to” — and because he did not want to begin “wheeling and dealing” with other nations to extradite a “hacker.”

National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said on Saturday that Biden and Correa spoke the day before, but provided no further details.

“The vice president spoke with President Correa on June 28,” Meehan said in a statement published by The Associated Press. “They engaged in a broad conversation regarding the bilateral relationship.

“They did discuss Mr. Snowden, but we are not going to provide details on their discussion," Meehan said.

Correa called his conversation with Biden “friendly and very cordial,” telling the vice president that Ecuador had not sought to be put in the situation of deciding whether to harbor an American fugitive.

He added that Ecuador could not consider the asylum request until Snowden was in the country.

“The really grave thing is what Snowden has reported," Correa said in his address. "He will have to assume his responsibilities, but the grave thing is his reporting of the biggest massive spy operation in the history of humanity, inside and outside the United States.”

Ecuador is among several countries where Snowden is seeking help to avoid U.S. prosecution.

He also has sought asylum in Iceland, according to WikiLeaks — and he remains holed up in a transit zone at the Moscow airport after Russian President Vladimir Putin called Snowden “a free man” and refused to send him back to the United States.

Snowden, 30, had fled to Russia to evade an extradition order in Hong Kong.

Further, The Guardian newspaper of London reported that Correa recently nullified a travel document that could have helped Snowden come to Ecuador. Snowden’s U.S. passport has already been revoked.

Correa said on Saturday that he did not authorize a letter of safe passage to Snowden that was apparently issued by an Ecuadorean diplomat in London, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Ecuadorean president said anyone who issued such papers would face discipline.

Without those documents, Snowden's options for leaving the Moscow airport further diminished.

Additionally, Venezuela's new president, Nicolas Maduro, has spoken favorably about possibly granting Snowden refuge — though he has taken no action in the matter.

And even if Ecuador or Venezuela decided to take Snowden, there is no guarantee that communist Cuba, the likely transit point for any flight from Moscow to those South American countries, would let him pass through and further complicate its own uneasy relations with the United States.

Latest: Is Snowden a Hero or Traitor – Vote in Urgent Poll

In his television address, Correa rebuked the Obama administration for hypocrisy, invoking the case of brothers Roberto and William Isaías, bankers whose extradition from the U.S. Correa said Ecuador has been seeking.

The brothers were convicted of fraud in 2012 by Ecuador's top court. The extradition request by Ecuadorean authorities has been rejected by U.S. courts, the Journal reports.

Although Ecuador has presented a case for the extradition of the bankers, U.S. judges have ruled Ecuador hasn't been able to prove probable cause against the bankers, and so far have ruled against extradition.

“Let's be consistent,” Correa said in his television address. “Have rules for everyone, because that is a clear double-standard here.”

As for Biden, Correa suggested it wasn't personal. He praised the vice president for being more courteous than "those badly behaved and confused ones in the Senate who threaten our country."

Earlier this week, Ecuador preemptively renounced its tariff benefits on hundreds of millions of dollars in trade. The move came after Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey threatened to block the benefits.

Ecuadorian officials blasted the possible trade move as “a new instrument of blackmail," the AP reports.



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