As former national security contractor Edward Snowden remains holed-up in the legally ambiguous transit zone inside Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, officials from Russia, Ecuador and the United States seem deeply divided about how to proceed.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. exchanged a “friendly and very cordial” phone call with Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa on Friday, regarding Snowden’s asylum request to Ecuador, which was confirmed later by White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. She was unable to offer further details of the call.
“The moment that he arrives, if he arrives, the first thing is we’ll ask the opinion of the United States,” Correa said, “as we did in the Assange case with England.” Julian Assange, founder of the data-dumping website WikiLeaks, has remained in Ecuador’s London Embassy for over a year to avoid extradition.
“The situation of Mr. Snowden is a complex situation,” Correa has said, “and we don’t know how we will solve it.” But, he cautioned, “the decision is ours to make.”
He was critical of the U.S. government, which has so-far refused to extradite banking brothers Roberto and William Isaias, which Ecuador has been requesting from America for a while. “Let’s be consistent,” Correa said. “Have rules for everyone, because that is a clear double-standard here.”
President Obama, meanwhile, has been attempting to downplay the situation during his tour this week through sub-Saharan Africa. “I have not called President Xi personally,” he said, “or President Putin personally, and the reason is, number one, I shouldn’t have to.”
He made fun of notion that he would be “scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” and reaffirmed that situations like this should proceed through normal channels.
“My continued expectation,” he said, “is that Russia, or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum, recognize that they are part of an international community, and that they should be abiding by international law, and we will continue to press them as hard as we can to make sure that they do so.”
It’s a tricky legal dance, one that’s been a continued source of embarrassment as some of the same countries that Snowden alleges America has spied upon have flatly refused to cooperate with the U.S. government’s continued attempts to get him back. Obama downplays it and Biden makes phone calls. Officials at all levels of government toss around empty phrases like “rule of law” which — in light of the very documents that Snowden leaked — seems to be a pretty hopelessly fluid concept. Meanwhile, some less-than-delicate members of Congress have been making obtuse threats about trade, prompting Correa to praise Biden for being more courteous than “those badly behaved and confused ones in the Senate who threaten our country.”
(He’s referring to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who made earlier threats about blocking the renewal of Ecuador’s tariff benefits on hundreds of millions of dollars in trade with America, something that Ecuador has denounced as “a new instrument of blackmail.”)
Correa was careful to note that the national conversation ought not to be centered around the ongoing personal Snowden saga, but rather on the material that he disclosed — a concern that Snowden himself said he considered while deciding whether or not to come forward with his identity.
“The really grave thing is what Snowden has reported,” Correa said. “He will have to assume his responsibilities, but the grave thing is his reporting of the biggest massive spy operation in the history of humanity, inside and outside the United States.”
President Obama responds to questions about Edward Snowden.