By Amie Parnes and Ian Swanson - 07/01/13 05:49 PM EDT
Edward Snowden reportedly sought asylum in Russia on Monday amid signs the U.S. and Russia were looking for a way to end the standoff over the 30-year-old leaker of U.S. security secrets.
Fox News reported Snowden's request for asylum was given to Russian officials by Sarah Harrison, a representative for WikiLeaks. Fox cited a report by the InterFax News Agency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Monday suggested Snowden could stay in Russia, but that he must “stop his work aimed at harming our American partners.”
"If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips," Putin told reporters at a gas exporters' conference in Moscow, according to Reuters. "If he wants to go away somewhere and someone will accept him there, by all means," Putin said.
President Obama confirmed those reports Monday at a press conference in Africa where he said there are “high level discussions” underway with Russia to find a solution over the extradition of Snowden. Obama said he was “hopeful” that Russia would make the right decision on Snowden, who has leaked out a string of documents revealing National Security Agency spying campaigns.
Snowden is holed up in Moscow’s airport after flying from Hong Kong. He is believed to be in an international part of the airport, and according to Russia, has not entered its territory.
Russia is not the only country where Snowden is seeking asylum.
Snowden met Monday with Russian diplomatic officials at the Moscow airport, handing over a request for political asylum to 15 separate countries, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A Russian Foreign Ministry source described the gesture to the paper as a "desperate measure on his part" after Ecuador pulled Snowden's political protection credentials following comments by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The official did not say which 15 countries Snowden has requested asylum from.
Over the weekend, Putin said Russia ruled out handing Snowden over to the United States. Putin said that Snowden was "not a Russian agent" and that Russian intelligence services weren't working with him, according to Reuters.
He said that Snowden should choose his final destination and travel there, but also offered some compliments to the National Security Agency leaker.
Putin said he considered Snowden to be a rights activist, calling him a "new dissident," according to The Associated Press, and compared him to Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov.
Speaking at a news conference in Africa, Obama told reporters the U.S. has “gone through regular law enforcement channels with the requests” regarding Snowden. He noted that Snowden traveled to Russia “without a valid passport, without legal papers.”
The comments from Putin and Obama follow news stories published Monday about alleged U.S. spying on the European Union.
Stories published in The Guardian and Der Spiegel said the U.S. National Security Agency had done surveillance on European Union offices in New York; Washington, D.C., and Brussels.
Obama did not confirm nor deny the reports in his comments on Monday.
“We're still evaluating the article because the problem is that these things come out in dribs and drabs and we don't know necessarily what programs they're referring to,” Obama said. “We don't know how they're sourced. What I've said to my team is take a look at this article, figure out what they may or may not be talking about, and then what we'll do is we'll communicate to our allies appropriately.”
Obama refused to comment in more depth about the allegation. But he added the Europeans are “some of the closest allies ... and we work with them on everything and we share intelligence constantly.”
“When we have an answer, we will make sure to provide all the information that our allies want," Obama added.
Obama suggested governments often try to find out more information about what is happening in capitals, but suggested he does not have to spy to do so.
“I'm the end user of this kind of intelligence, and if I want to know what [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel is thinking, I will call Chancellor Merkel. If I want to know what [French] President [François] Hollande is thinking, I'll call President Hollande. If I want to know what [British Prime Minister] David Cameron is thinking, I'll call David Cameron. Ultimately, we work so closely together that there's almost no information that's not shared between our various countries,” he said.
—This story was updated at 1:48 p.m.