Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Monday that his government had received a formal asylum request from U.S. former CIA analyst Edward Snowden, who has been staying in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since June 23.
"An asylum request letter arrived" from Snowden, Maduro told reporters after meeting with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Snowden, he said, "will have to decide when he will fly here."
A Russian lawmaker with close ties to Kremlin tweeted that Snowden had accepted Venezuela's offer of political asylum. However, the tweet disappeared a few minutes later.
It was not possible to immediately reach Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee who has acted as an unofficial point-man for the Kremlin on the Snowden affair.
Last Friday, Maduro publicly announced his offer of "humanitarian asylum" for Snowden, accusing the United States of "unleashing madness" and "persecution" after the jet carrying Bolivian President Morales was denied overflight and landing rights by several European countries who feared that Snowden might be on board the plane.
"Latin America is telling this young man that you are being persecuted by the empire; come here," said Maduro, alluding to other similar offers made to Snowden by Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua are all governed by leftist administrations.
Maduro said that he had not spoken with Snowden personally, "but I'd like to."
When asked about possible U.S. reprisals if Venezuela takes Snowden in, Maduro said that "the U.S. doesn't govern the world. We're a free and sovereign country."
The U.S. secrets-leaker also made a formal asylum request of Nicaragua to that country's diplomatic delegation in Moscow.
The White House warned Monday that Snowden must not be allowed to travel to any country except the United States in response to the asylum offers he has received from the three Latin American nations.
Snowden has requested refuge in 27 countries, according to WikiLeaks, after revealing massive U.S. spying on telephone and Internet communications.
Snowden's passport was revoked by U.S. authorities.
For Snowden to leave for South America, he would need for Venezuela to issue him travel documents and he would need to find a way to get there. The only direct commercial flight from Moscow goes to Havana, Cuba.
The Moscow-Havana flight goes over Europe and the U.S., which could cause complications. Some European countries refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to fly through their airspace on his way home from Moscow last week because of suspicions that Snowden was on his plane.
The presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua also said over the weekend that Snowden was welcome in their countries.
Includes reporting by The Associated Press.