Obama rules out ‘wheeling and dealing’ on Snowden

Whistleblower faces possibility of months in limbo at Moscow airport

After weeks of high-stakes international tension to find and apprehend whistleblower Edward Snowden, US president Barack Obama indicated that he would not spend much geopolitical capital to make the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor stand trial in the US.

Mr Obama said yesterday he would not engage in “wheeling and dealing” to persuade foreign governments – principally Russia – to return Mr Snowden to America, where he has been indicted on espionage charges related to his leak of classified information.

'Scrambling jets'
Mr Obama said he had yet to speak to the Russian or Chinese leadership concerning Mr Snowden, emphasising a desire to place trade and other bilateral issues ahead of the whistleblower. "I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," he said, according to a tweet from the Washington Post's David Nakamura.

Russian president Vladimir Putin confirmed on Tuesday that Mr Snowden was in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, awaiting a potential journey to Ecuador, where he had requested political asylum.


Mr Putin said Russia would not extradite Mr Snowden to the US and asserted that Russia’s security services had not been in contact with Mr Snowden, a claim greeted with international scepticism given Mr Snowden’s knowledge of some of the most sensitive secrets about the US surveillance apparatus.

Meanwhile, Ecuador has ramped up its defiance of the US over Mr Snowden by waiving preferential trade rights with Washington even as the whistleblower’s prospect of reaching Quito dimmed.

Ecuador waives trade rights
President Rafael Correa's government said yesterday it was renouncing the Andean Trade Preference Act to thwart US "blackmail" of Ecuador in the former NSA contractor's asylum request.

Officials also offered a $23m donation for human rights training in the US, a riposte to recent US criticism of Ecuador’s own human rights record.

Betty Tola, Ecuador’s minister of political co-ordination, said the asylum request had not been processed because Mr Snowden was neither in Ecuador nor at an Ecuadorean embassy or consulate. “The petitioner is not in Ecuadorean territory as the law requires.”

Ms Tola also said Ecuador had not supplied any travel document or diplomatic letter to Mr Snowden, whose US passport has been invalidated.

The renunciation underlined divisions within Ecuador’s government between leftists who have embraced Mr Snowden as an anti-imperialist symbol and centrists who fear diplomatic and economic damage.

Earlier in the day Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador's foreign minister, said Mr Snowden's case was similar to that of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been granted asylum at its embassy in London. "It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time." – (Guardian service)