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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Putin confirms Snowden at Moscow airport, rejects US extradition demands

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Tuesday that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is at the Moscow airport but says since Snowden has not committed a crime in that country, the government will not extradite him back – as requested -- to the United States.

Putin told media outlets Snowden is currently in the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and says the sooner Snowden chooses a destination, the better.

Putin, speaking at a press conference in Finland, also said he hopes the Snowden case will not affect relations with the United States. He then dismissed U.S. accusations against Russia over the Snowden case as “rubbish,” and added that Russian security agencies "didn't work and aren't working" with Snowden.

Commenting on a U.S. request to extradite him, Putin said that Russia doesn't have an extradition agreement with the U.S. and thus wouldn't meet the U.S. request.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry afterward acknowledged there is no extradition treaty with Russia, but said there are standards of behavior between nations. He said Russia should not side with an international fugitive.

Earlier Tuesday, though, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Snowden hadn't even crossed into Russian territory.

"We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable," Lavrov said. "There are no legal grounds for such conduct of U.S. officials, and we proceed from that."

The comments ratcheted up the stand-off between the two countries over the globetrotting fugitive.

The leaker's evasion of U.S. extradition efforts has added another headache for the Obama administration as it grapples with the steady pace of intelligence leaks that Snowden has set into motion. The administration is trying -- strenuously, it appears -- to convince a string of countries not known for their friendliness toward the U.S. to keep Snowden in one place while they negotiate his status.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday urged Russia to ultimately turn him over.
"We do expect the Russian government to look at all the options available ... to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States," Carney said.

Carney was less measured about China.

"The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust," he said. "And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. ...This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship."

Carney did not provide other details about the status of possible negotiations. Later in the day, President Obama commented briefly on the case, saying the U.S. is working with other countries to ensure the rule of law is followed.

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder whose team is assisting Snowden, separately claimed on a conference call to know Snowden's location, but would only say that he is "healthy and safe."
"He's in a safe place," Assange said. "We cannot go into further detail."

Assange and his colleagues accused the U.S. of trying to bully other nations into turning him over, claiming Snowden can potentially claim refugee status. Though the U.S. revoked Snowden's passport, Assange revealed that Snowden was supplied with a refugee document when he left Hong Kong by the Ecuadorean government, allowing him to travel.

Assange said Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries. Meanwhile, Ecuador's foreign minister said Monday that the country was considering Snowden's request.
But the Justice Department official said a revoked passport should have stopped anyone in that circumstance from boarding a plane.

The U.S. government has been pressuring countries not to provide him passage.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote a terse letter to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak saying that, if Snowden is still in Russia, Moscow should turn him over.

"The Snowden case is an important test of the 'reset' in relations between our two countries. Mr. Snowden's own statements have made clear his guilt. If our two nations are to have a constructive relationship moving forward, Russian cooperation in this matter is essential," he wrote. "If Mr. Snowden is still on Russian territory, I urge your government to apprehend him and turn him over to the United States authorities immediately."

Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said earlier that Snowden was ultimately bound for Ecuador "via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks."
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino spoke to reporters while in Vietnam on Monday, saying his country is analyzing Snowden's request. He was critical of the U.S., saying it's unlikely Snowden would receive a fair trial.

He said earlier that the asylum request "has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world."

Snowden helped The Guardian and The Washington Post disclose U.S. surveillance programs that collects vast amounts of phone records and online data in the name of foreign intelligence, but often sweeping up information on American citizens. 

Officials have the ability to collect phone and Internet information broadly but need a warrant to examine specific cases where they believe terrorism is involved.

A State Department official said the United States was in touch through diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries that Snowden could travel through or to, reminding them that Snowden is wanted on criminal charges and reiterating Washington's position that Snowden should only be permitted to travel back to the U.S.

The Justice Department said it would "pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel."

With each suspected flight, efforts to secure Snowden's return to the United States appeared more complicated if not impossible. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, but does with Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. Even with an extradition agreement though, any country could give Snowden a political exemption.

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