Snowden waits in Moscow as asylum rejections pile up

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden applied for asylum to a slew of countries. Some have rejected him outright and for now his best hopes appear to be Venezuela and Bolivia.

Maxim Shemetov/AP
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, right, looks on as his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro, left, shakes hands with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, July 2. Russia told former NSA contractor Edward Snowden he was welcome to enter the country and stay but would need 'to stop his work directed to hurt our American partners.'

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The options for former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden are narrowing quickly as he sits in a Moscow transit terminal and waits for responses to asylum requests sent around the globe this week.

Mr. Snowden, who leaked top-secret NSA intelligence and is wanted by the US on charges of espionage, has already been rejected by seven European countries which told him his requests for asylum were invalid, reports the BBC.

Russia told Snowden he was welcome to enter the country and stay, but that he would have to stop leaking information about the US surveillance program, The Christian Science Monitor reports. "Snowden is free to go but if he decides to stay, he has to stop his work directed to hurt our American partners. I know that this kind of statement sounds strange from me," said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

President Obama has “made clear to a number of countries that granting him asylum would carry costs,” according to Reuters. Snowden has accused Obama of using "deception" and "bad tools of political aggression" to convince countries not to accept his asylum request, according to the LA Times.

Ecuador, which as of last week was viewed as the target destination for Snowden, seems to be backpedaling from early indications of support. Issuing Snowden a temporary travel pass when he left Hong Kong “was a mistake on our part," Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa told the Guardian on Monday. The South American country will consider his asylum request once he is on Ecuadorean soil, President Correa said, but “in this moment he is in Russian territory and these are decisions for the Russian authorities.”

On whether Correa would like to meet [Snowden], the president said: "Not particularly. He's a very complicated person. Strictly speaking, Mr Snowden spied for some time.”

The comments contrasted with expressions of gratitude the 30-year-old fugitive issued hours later, before Correa's views had been published.

"I must express my deep respect for your principles and sincere thanks for your government's action in considering my request for political asylum," Snowden said, according to a letter written in Spanish and obtained by the Press Association news agency, based in London.

"There are few world leaders who would risk standing for the human rights of an individual against the most powerful government on earth, and the bravery of Ecuador and its people is an example to the world."

This comes just a day after President Correa told The New York Times that “perhaps [Snowden] broke the law of the United States, but in order to tell the truth to the United States, the American people and the entire world, and it’s a very urgent truth.” Ecuador granted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange asylum and has housed him in its London Embassy for more than a year.

The Wall Street Journal listed the countries to which Snowden has applied for Asylum and organized each as “unlikely,” “possibility,” and “no response.”

Two South American nations, both part of the region's leftist bloc, are the only ones to sit on the list of possibilities: Bolivia and Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is in Russia this week, and said his country has not yet received Snowden’s request for asylum, but that he had “done something very important for humanity” and “deserved the world's protection.”

"The world's conscience should react, the world youth should react, the decent people who want a peaceful world should react, everyone should react and find solidarity with this young man who has denounced and altered the world that they [the US] pretend to control," President Maduro said.

Given the current administration, Venezuela could make sense as place to seek asylum: Maduro has maintained former President Hugo Chávez’s anti-US rhetoric, and according to a separate Guardian article “the country's huge oil reserves and strong regional alliances with other socialist nations in Latin America put it in a strong position to resist US demands for extradition.” (Venezuela does have an extradition agreement with the US – dating back to the 1920s – but there is a long list of exceptions, which Snowden would likely fall under.)

However, as many Latin-America-watchers have pointed out, if and when power changes hands in Venezuela – Maduro's current term is until 2018 – Snowden could find himself on his own. A New York Time’s correspondent in Latin America, Damien Cave, tweeted last week: "Venezuela would be an interesting choice as well for Snowden: it assumes an anti-US gov will be in place longterm. Not necessarily true."

“Snowden himself is in a pretty difficult situation,” Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center told The Times. “I think he was following Assange’s advice trying to get to Ecuador, but then Ecuador, and, indirectly, Cuba, have failed him. I think Venezuela is talking to the U.S. as well. The U.S. can offer things to Venezuela.”

Maduro has said he will not use his personal plane to fly Snowden out of Russia when he leaves for Venezuela.

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