Correa doubts UK and Sweden will change their stance on Assange


QUITO – Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa doubts Britain and Sweden will change their tough stance on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, especially since they are negotiating with a small, poor country like his.

Ecuador’s leftist leader said in an interview on Thursday that he remained open to talks over the fate of the former computer hacker, who has been holed up at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for more than two months.

Britain says it is determined to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault. Mr Correa says he shares Mr Assange’s fears that he could then be sent to the United States to face charges over WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of secret US cables.

“We have always had faith in dialogue. You never lose hope,” said Mr Correa, who granted asylum to the 41-year-old Australian last week.

“But . . . I’m a bit sceptical that Britain, Sweden or the United States will change their position, since they are not used to doing so, and even less so when they are in talks with a ‘Third World country’ like Ecuador,” he said.

Despite Mr Assange’s claims that Washington is plotting to extradite, US and European government sources say the US has issued no criminal charges against the WikiLeaks founder and has launched no attempt to extradite him. The Obama administration has said his fate is in the hands of Britain, Sweden and Ecuador.

Mr Correa, a 49-year-old economist, is a self-declared enemy of the US “empire” who seldom shies away from a fight, whether it is with the Catholic Church or international bondholders.

His government says it never intended to prevent Mr Assange from facing justice in Sweden, and it has called on Britain and Sweden to provide him with written guarantees that he would not be extradited from there to any third country.

Ecuador’s president said it would be “perfectly possible” in theory for the authorities in London and Stockholm to issue those assurances.

If Mr Assange received guarantees from Britain and Sweden that he would never be extradited to the US, Mr Correa added, the WikiLeaks founder would decline Ecuador’s asylum offer and hand himself over to Swedish prosecutors.

Mr Correa said he remains angry at a veiled threat by Britain to enter its London embassy and arrest Mr Assange.

Speaking to Reuters in a TV studio in Quito, he said that had been “a monumental diplomatic mistake”. – (Reuters)