Don’t worry, America, the Ecuadorean president said. Edward Snowden cannot leave Moscow.
Rafael Correa has been widely criticized after his South American country said it would consider granting the National Security leaker asylum. But on Sunday, Correa gave assurances that Snowden is “under the care of Russian authorities” and cannot leave that country without his U.S. passport.
Correa said he had no idea Snowden's intended destination was Ecuador when he fled Hong Kong for Russia last week. He said the Ecuadorean consul in London committed "a serious error" without consulting any officials in Ecuador's capital when the consul issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden.
Correa said "the case is not in Ecuador's hands" and said Snowden must assume responsibility if he broke U.S. laws. But Correa said the broader legitimacy of Snowden's action must be taken into consideration and Ecuador would still consider an asylum request.
His statements come after the Ecuadorean president was asked by Vice President Joe Biden to turn down Snowden’s asylum request.
Correa, in a weekly television address, offered little sympathy for the Obama administration's view that Snowden is a criminal who should be swiftly returned to the U.S. At the same time, he vowed to seek American input on any asylum request and suggested Snowden will have to answer for his actions.
The Friday phone call between Correa and Biden was the highest-level conversation between the U.S. and Ecuador to be disclosed since Snowden began seeking asylum. Facing espionage charges in the U.S., Snowden is believed to be holed up in a Moscow airport's transit zone and seeking safe passage to Ecuador, the country seen as likeliest to shelter America's most wanted fugitive.
Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, has been given asylum in Ecuador's embassy in London.
Correa said he had a "friendly and very cordial" conversation with Biden, and told the vice president that Ecuador hadn't sought to be put in the situation of deciding whether to harbor an American justice-dodger. He said Ecuador can't consider the asylum request until Snowden is on Ecuadorean soil.
"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," Correa said. "But the decision is ours to make."
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed that the two leaders spoke by phone Friday and discussed Snowden, but she wouldn't disclose any details about the conversation.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.