By Justin Sink - 07/12/13 04:12 PM EDT
Edward Snowden will ask Russia for temporary asylum with the hope of traveling to the Latin American countries that have offered him a permanent home, he said in a statement issued Friday.
The 30-year-old former defense contractor has been holed up in the Moscow airport for nearly three weeks after fleeing Hong Kong shortly after admitting to having leaked details of top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs.
But on Friday, he met with officials from prominent human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and an official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with the hope of moving toward resolution of his status.
Snowden has been barred from entering Moscow or traveling on to another destination because the United States has revoked his passport. In his statement Friday, Snowden said he had "been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression."
"The government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have," he said.
The Obama administration has been exerting intense pressure on Latin American countries to refuse Snowden asylum, The New York Times reported Friday, with State Department officials and diplomats across the region warning of lasting consequences to U.S. relations if countries accept him. Nevertheless, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have all offered him asylum.
In his statement, Snowden said the government's "dangerous escalations represent a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America, but to the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum."
He also said it was his intention "to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders."
On Thursday, President Obama also told Chinese officials he was disappointed in their decision to allow Snowden to flee Hong Kong during trade discussions at the White House.
Still, Snowden's request to enter Moscow remains politically fraught. Russian President Vladimir Puntin has demanded that he stop the release of further revelations that could harm the United States.
"If he wants to stay, one condition: He must cease his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners," Putin said on July 1.
In an interview aired by RT.com, Tanya Lokshina, a senior Russia researcher for Human Rights Watch in Moscow, said that Snowden was unconcerned by that condition because he did not intend to "harm the United States."
"No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the U.S. ... I want the U.S. to succeed," Snowden said, according to Lokshina.
Lokshina also told Russian journalist Olaf Koens that Snowden has been sleeping at the airport, felt fine, and feels safe in Russia.
Snowden's statement acknowledged the heavy toll the saga has taken on the former CIA contractor, however.
"A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort," he said. "I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates. It is also a serious violation of the law."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax News that the Russian government did not yet have official confirmation of Snowden's appeal for asylum, but that the previous conditions articulated by the Russian president would apply.
—This story was posted at 9:59 a.m. and updated at 12:12 p.m.