Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday appealed for “calm” in U.S.-Russian discussions over National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and said he hoped to avoid a “confrontation” with Moscow over the dispute.
“I would simply appeal for calm and reasonableness in a moment where we don’t need to raise the level of confrontation over something as, frankly, basic and normal as this,” Kerry told reporters during a stop in Saudi Arabia. “We’re not looking for a confrontation. We’re not ordering anybody.”
Heated rhetoric on both sides risks long-term damage to the relationship, with the dispute coming as the U.S. and Russia preparing to co-host a last-ditch peace conference on Syria next month in Geneva.
Snowden flew to Moscow from Hong Kong after authorities there failed to honor a U.S. extradition request. Snowden, who is facing federal charges on espionage and theft of government property, is believed to be in Moscow's airport and is seeking asylum in Ecuador.
The White House on Monday said they “expect” Russia to hand over Snowden, but the Russian president on Tuesday called him a “free person” and said there was no extradition treaty between the two countries to force his arrest.
“The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it is for him and Russia," Putin told reporters.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also blasted the U.S. for suggesting that Russia was involved in Snowden's decision to flee to Moscow as “absolutely groundless and unacceptable.”
Kerry defended the U.S. request to expel Snowden as routine and noting that he had been charged with a crime.
“We’re simply requesting, under a very normal procedure, for the transfer of somebody, just as we transferred to Russia seven people in the last two years that they requested that we did without any clamor, without any rancor, without any argument, and according to our sense of the appropriateness of meeting their request,” he said. “And that’s what we would hope they would reciprocate with here today.”
“It is accurate that there is not an extradition treaty between Russia and the United States, so if you want to be technical, certainly there is no extradition treaty,” Kerry added, in response to Putin’s comments. “But there are standards of behavior between sovereign nations. There is common law. There is respect for rule of law.
“We would simply call on our friends in Russia to respect the fact that a partner nation, a co-member of the Permanent Five of the United Nations has made a normal request under legal systems for law to be upheld,” he added.
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