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30 Jun, 2013 11:31

Ecuador's Correa: Solution for Edward Snowden's destination 'in hands of Russia'

Ecuador's Correa: Solution for Edward Snowden's destination 'in hands of Russia'

Ecuador President Rafael Correa says Russia will decide the destination of former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, currently believed to be holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. seeking safe passage to Ecuador after leaving Hong Kong.

"At this moment, the solution of Snowden's destination is in the hands of Russian authorities," Correa said in an interview with the private Oromar channel, according to AFP.

"We have not sought out this situation. Snowden is in contact with [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange, who recommended he seek asylum in Ecuador,"
Correa stated.

Meanwhile, President Putin's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday that Snowden's fate is not on the Kremlin's agenda.

He said that Vladimir Putin had already voiced his take on the issue on Tuesday, when he confirmed that Snowden was in Moscow indeed, as a transit passenger, and rejected the US demands for the leaker’s extradition.

“We can only extradite foreign citizens to such countries with which we have signed the appropriate international agreements on criminal extradition,” Putin said, adding that as Snowden had committed no crime on Russian soil, he is free to travel at will. 

"Snowden is a free person. The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it is for him and Russia," he stated.

"On top of this," Peskov went on, "the president pointed out that he is not tackling this issue and prefers appropriate services to deal with it. Therefore, this subject matter is not on the Kremlin agenda."

"Given that it's not our issue, I don't know what kind of further development of the events and which legal and other aspects of the subject matter could follow. I can neither say anything, nor explain or give an appraisal," Peskov added.

Washington wants the 30-year-old Snowden, who faces espionage charges, over his leaking of details about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet telephone and internet surveillance programs.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks during his programme 'Enlace Ciudadano', at the Refineria del Pacifico camp, in El Aromo, Manabi, 390 west of Quito, on June 29, 2013 (AFP Photo / Rodrigo Buendia)

'Decision ours to make'

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been residing in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over a year, said during a conference call with the media broadcast by RT that Snowden had been given special refugee documents by the Ecuadorian government which facilitated his travel to Russia. But the country's top Foreign Ministry official said on Wednesday that Ecuador has not granted Edward Snowden any refugee documents.

Correa also said that he didn't authorize travel documents that the diplomats in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London issued to Snowden. He explained that London consul Fidel Narvaez gave the document to Snowden, "exceeding his authority in doing so."

"[Narvaez] will be punished," Correa promised.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (AFP Photo / Drew Angerer)

On Saturday US Vice-President Joe Biden "cordially" asked Ecuador not to grant asylum to former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to Correa. He said his country will make a decision based on sovereignty.

Biden initiated the phone call, Correa said, mentioning that Biden's good manners were in sharp contrast to "those badly behaved and confused ones in the Senate who threaten our country," and who had promised to cut off Ecuador's trade benefits in response to Snowden's asylum request.

"He communicated a very courteous request from the United States that we reject the [asylum] request,"
Correa recalled. 

In Correa’s weekly broadcast on state TV, the staunch critic of the US, said he vowed to respect Washington's opinion in evaluating Snowden's request, should the whistleblower arrive in Ecuador. However, his country cannot begin processing the request unless the National Security Agency leaker reaches Ecuador.

Correa explained that "when he [Snowden] comes to Ecuadoran soil, if in fact he ever does, and we have to process the request, the first people whose opinion we will seek is that of the United States."

"Just as we did in the Assange case with England [sic], we are going to listen to everyone but the decision would be ours as a sovereign nation," he added, according to AFP.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks during his programme 'Enlace Ciudadano', at the Refineria del Pacifico camp, in El Aromo, Manabi, 390 west of Quito, on June 29, 2013 (AFP Photo / Rodrigo Buendia)

"The really grave thing is what Snowden has reported,"
AP quoted Correa as saying. "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."

Correa said that while he doesn't want "to harm his country" he is "not going to give up on the principles and the sovereignty" of Ecuador.

US Senator Robert Menendez, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, warned earlier this week that Ecuador’s stance in Snowden's case could hurt the country's international trade, which is highly dependent on exports to the US.

"Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior," the influential US lawmaker said.