White House 'extremely disappointed' in Russia for granting Snowden asylum

The White House is "extremely disappointed" with the Kremlin for granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old Defense contractor who leaked details of top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs.

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"We see this as an unfortunate development, and we are extremely disappointed by it," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. The Kremlin acted "despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and private," he added.

Carney also said the White House was "evaluating the utility" of a scheduled bilateral summit in Moscow next month, a further indication the U.S. may pull the plug on the one-on-one talks between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Obviously this is not a positive development," Carney said of the talks.

Snowden thanked the Russian government for being granted asylum in a statement released to Wikileaks.

"I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations," Snowden said in the statement.

Carney said American authorities would "obviously" be in contact to express "our extreme disappointment with this situation."

"Mr. Snowden is not a whistle-blower — he is accused of leaking classified information," Carney said. "He should be returned to the United States."

Carney said he would not "ascribe motives" to the move by Russian authorities but said that the U.S. would "assess" its relationship with Russia in light of the move.

Carney said that the White House did not receive advance warning from Russian authorities that Snowden would be granted asylum and was still awaiting official confirmation of the move through diplomatic channels.

Later in the day, Obama ignored shouted questions from reporters about Russia's decision during an Oval Office meeting with President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi of Yemen.

Snowden was granted temporary refugee status, allowing him to leave the airport and live within Russia for the next year, his lawyer said Thursday.

The former defense contractor had been stranded for over a month at the Moscow airport, unable to proceed either to Russia or another destination after the United States revoked his passport.

He arrived after fleeing Hong Kong when the United States filed an extradition request to bring him back to face charges surrounding his admission he leaked details of top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs.

"I have just handed over to him papers from the Russian Immigration Service. They are what he needs to leave the transit zone," attorney Anatoly Kucherena said, according to Interfax, the Russian news organization. 

The decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum comes despite intense lobbying over the past month from the White House.

Obama personally asked Putin to return Snowden to the United States in a telephone call between the two leaders.

The White House has also repeatedly indicated that Obama could skip planned one-on-one talks with Putin next month in Moscow ahead of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.

Other Obama Administration officials had also been attempting to sway their counterparts in Moscow.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Russian authorities assuring them Snowden would not face the death penalty or torture if he were returned to the United States.

"First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States. The charges he faces do not carry that possibility, and the United States would not seek the death penalty even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes," Holder wrote.

Secretary of State John Kerry also called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week to reiterate “the belief of the United States, that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States, where he will have a fair trial; that Russia still has the ability to do the right thing," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“Obviously any move that would allow Mr. Snowden to depart the airport would be deeply disappointing,” Psaki said.

And White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week that U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul had been "been engaged in a number of conversations over the last several weeks on this issue." 

It's unclear how else the United States might react to Russia's approval of Snowden's asylum request. But the White House has said that frustration over Hong Kong's handling of Snowden bled into trade talks with Chinese officials last month. Snowden was allowed to travel to Moscow from Hong Kong after officials there rejected an American request for extradition.

"We've been very clear about our disappointment with the way that was handled," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

American officials have also reached out to their counterparts in the Latin American countries where Snowden has been offered permanent asylum, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

"We have communicated with nations around the world that Mr. Snowden should be returned to the United States," Carney said.

Last updated at 5:38 p.m.