U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice rejected suggestions that National Security Agency leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden had damaged U.S. foreign policy or weakened President Obama.
“I think that’s bunk,” said Rice, who will assume her new post as Obama’s national security adviser next week, in an interview with the Associated Press published Saturday.
Snowden earlier this month revealed classified information detailing the NSA’s secret surveillance of internet and phone data. The disclosures included information about PRISM, a program which tracked internet data of foreign users, sparking international criticism.
Efforts to bring Snowden, who is facing federal charges on espionage and theft of government property to justice, have also threatened to set back U.S. relations with China and Russia.
Those countries refused to honor an extradition request for Snowden, who is currently believed to be in Moscow airport. Snowden fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii shortly before leaking the NSA information, and then boarded a flight to Moscow last week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week he would not send Snowden to the U.S., calling him a “free man.”
"I don't think the diplomatic consequences, at least as they are foreseeable now, are that significant,” Rice said, downplaying the dispute.
“I think the Snowden thing is obviously something that we will get through, as we've gotten through all the issues like this in the past,” she added.
Secretary of State John Kerry last week also stressed that the U.S. hoped to avoid a “confrontation” with Russia over Snowden. But administration officials are pressing their Russian counterparts to turn over the admitted leaker, who is seeking asylum in Ecuador.
Rice said that Obama would pursue his foreign policy plans, including efforts on nuclear disarmament, which he detailed in an address in Berlin earlier this month, despite the Snowden controversy.
Rice said Obama had “significant ambitions and a real agenda” for his second term.
Rice was initially seen as Obama’s top pick to be Secretary of State, but that position went to Kerry after GOP opposition to her handling of the Benghazi Consulate attacks.
Rice initially blamed the attack on a spontaneous mob, with the administration later conceding it was a planned terrorist assault. Obama defended Rice, saying she had relied on incorrect talking points provided by the intelligence community, but some lawmakers questioned if the administration sought to downplay the terror attack in the run-up to last November’s election.
Obama tapped Rice to be his national security adviser earlier this month, with former adviser Samantha Power nominated to be the next UN ambassador.