Snowden seeks asylum in Russia even as Obama, Putin play down crisis

The FBI and Russia’s FSB security agency are in talks ordered by Obama and Putin to try to find a way to end the standoff over Edward Snowden, a Russian news agency reported.

Sergei Grits/AP
Passengers walk to board the Aeroflot flight SU150 from Moscow to Havana, at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow Sunday, June 30. As US and Russian security agencies reportedly try to reach a deal on Edward Snowden's fate, the passport-less leaker of secret US documents remains 'marooned' in Moscow's international airport.

US and Russian leaders offered comments Monday suggesting once again that they have no interest in allowing self-proclaimed whistleblower Edward Snowden to derail relations between their two countries.

And even as President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin uttered words indicating that bilateral interests are likely to trump Mr. Snowden’s case, rumors swirled of attempts by American and Russian officials to resolve the week-old standoff over the former National Security Agency contractor’s status.

As US and Russian security agencies reportedly try to reach a deal on Snowden’s fate, the passport-less leaker of secret US documents remains “marooned” in Moscow’s international airport, in the words of Wikileaks founder and Snowden defender Julian Assange.

The FBI and Russia’s FSB, the Russian state security agency, are in talks ordered by the two countries’ presidents to try to find a way to end the Snowden standoff, Russia’s RIA news agency reported Monday.

The report followed comments by Mr. Putin earlier Monday that Snowden, who arrived at the Moscow airport eight days ago on a flight from Hong Kong, is free to remain in Russia on the condition that he stop divulging information that is “damaging our American partners.”

Adding that he doubted the information freedom advocate would accept such a condition, Putin advised Snowden to decide what country he wants to go to and to “move there.”

Putin’s comments followed reports, later confirmed by Russian officials, that Snowden applied for political asylum in Russia Sunday night. Putin repeated Monday that Russia will not extradite Snowden to the US, but Russia experts interpreted the Russian leader’s “move out” advice to Snowden either as a signal to the US that he won’t be allowed to stay or as an attempt to provide Russia with cover from American displeasure should Snowden accept and back off on his leaking activities – something Mr. Assange says won’t happen – in order to stay.

Obama, in Tanzania on the last leg of a seven-day Africa tour, confirmed Monday that “high level” discussions continue between the two countries concerning Snowden’s fate. Playing down any sense of a crisis between the two powers, Obama said only that Russia could resolve the standoff by adhering to “normal” procedures between countries concerning fugitives from justice.

“We are hopeful that the Russian government makes decisions based on the normal procedures regarding international travel and the normal interactions that law enforcement [agencies] have,” Obama said.

Snowden has been charged with espionage and theft of government records. His passport was revoked by the US government when he was still in Hong Kong. The US has no extradition treaty with Russia.

Snowden on Monday handed Russian officials a list of 15 countries where he claimed to be applying for asylum, reportedly with the assistance of Wikileaks. One Russian official called the list a “desperate measure,” according to the Los Angeles Times, after Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa appeared to shut the door Sunday on Snowden receiving asylum in his country.

It was President Correa’s apparent change-of-heart on Snowden that led Mr. Assange to describe the leaker as “marooned” – a term US officials said Monday is not accurate.

“You’ve heard Mr. Assange say earlier that he’s sort of marooned in Russia.  That’s not true,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell Monday. Saying the US is prepared to issue Snowden “one-way travel documents,” Mr. Ventrell added, “He’s still a US citizen. He still enjoys the rights of his US citizenship, which include the right to a free and fair trial for the crimes he’s been accused of.”

On Monday a group of prominent US actors, academics, and former whistleblowers and intelligence officials disclosed a letter they sent to Mr. Correa pleading with him to grant Snowden asylum.

The letter, signed by Hollywood activists Oliver Stone and Danny Glover, as well as Iraq war whistleblower Joe Wilson, was attached to a petition to Correa that the organization Just Foreign Policy claims carries 23,000 signatures.

The letter and petition reached Correa two days after Vice-President Joe Biden telephoned the Ecuadoran president to ask that Snowden be denied asylum.

But Just Foreign Policy believes Correa can and should still grant Snowden asylum.  

“Unprecedented government secrecy and an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers are threatening the ability of Americans to control their government,” said the organization’s policy director, Robert Naiman. “If President Correa grants asylum to Snowden,” he said, “all Americans who love freedom will be in his debt."

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