White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Obama is not abandoning efforts to press Moscow to expel National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, a day after Russian leader Vladimir Putin rejected calls for his extradition.
“We understand that the arrival of Mr. Snowden in Russia creates issues for the Russian government to consider,” Carney told reporters traveling with the president to Senegal. “We have made clear that there is a legal basis, a clear legal basis for Russia to expel Mr. Snowden, in our view. And we've made that view known and are now having conversations accordingly.”
Snowden remains in the transit zone of the Moscow airport and could remain there for the foreseeable future as Ecuador considers his request for political asylum.
The former government contractor is facing federal charges on espionage for disclosing classified documents detailing the NSA’s Internet and phone surveillance programs.
Snowden initially fled to Hong Kong after leaking the information. On Sunday, he flew to Russia after China declined to enforce a U.S. extradition request.
Putin on Tuesday called Snowden a “free man” and said Russian authorities had no justification to seize him.
Carney has threatened repercussions against China for allowing Snowden to leave Hong Kong, but has opted for a less confrontational tack with Russia.
“Circumstances are different in that there is no extradition treaty [with Russia],” Carney said.
“We also believe that when it comes to Mr. Snowden, well, we agree with President Putin that we don't want the situation to harm our relations,” he added. “I would note that we have improved, as I did the other day — significant and improved cooperation with the Russian government on matters of law enforcement, especially in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.”
Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday also sought to tamp down tensions, saying that the U.S. hoped to avoid any “confrontation” with Russia over Snowden.
Neither country has an interest in further raising tensions caused by a showdown that could take weeks or even months to resolve.
The dispute over Snowden also comes as the administration is seeking Russia’s cooperation to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war.
Ecuador's foreign minister warned Wednesday that it took his country months to decide to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London.
“It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange,” Ricardo Patiño told reporters during a visit to Malaysia, “Do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time.”
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