White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said the administration is pressing Russian officials to clarify the status of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, amid reports he has been granted permission to leave the Moscow airport.
"We are seeking clarity from Russian authorities about Mr. Snowden's status and any change in it," Carney said in a press gaggle aboard Air Force One.
Snowden is trying to avoid extradition to the U.S. where he faces espionage charges after admitting to disclosing secret documents detailing the NSA’s phone and Internet surveillance programs.
He received asylum from a number of Latin American countries, but was unable to travel without the permission of Russia after U.S. officials revoked his passport.
Snowden requested temporary asylum from Russia. On Wednesday, a lawyer representing him said that Snowden intended to settle and work permanently in Russia.
The move to allow him to leave the airport is likely to further increase tensions between Moscow and Washington, as Obama administration officials have pressed their Russian counterparts to help return him to the United States.
Carney said the U.S. position on Snowden had not changed.
"Our position on Mr. Snowden remains what it was, which is that he is neither a human rights activist or a dissident," Carney said. "He has been charged with serious felonies for the unauthorized leaking of highly classified information."
"Mr. Snowden should be expelled at returned to the United States," he said.
President Obama spoke personally with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month to encourage him to help return Snowden.