Ecuador: Decision on Snowden could take months
MOSCOW (AP) — Ecuador could take months to decide whether to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and would need to take into consideration its relations with the U.S. when doing so, an official from the Latin American country said Wednesday.
Speaking during a visit to Malaysia's main city, Kuala Lumpur, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino compared Snowden's case to that of Julian Assange, the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, who has been given asylum in the Ecuadorean 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," Patino told reporters.
Snowden, who is charged with violating American espionage laws, fled Hong Kong over the weekend and flew to Russia. He booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he didn't board the plane.
Russia acknowledged his arrival only on Tuesday, when President Vladimir Putin said Snowden was still in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that he remained there on Wednesday.
"He hasn't violated any of our laws, he hasn't crossed our border, he is in the transit zone of the airport and has the right to fly in any direction he wants," the state news agency ITAR-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying.
Asked if Ecuador would provide protection to Snowden while considering his request for asylum, Patino said through a translator that if Snowden "goes to the embassy, then we will make a decision."
Patino refused to say what criteria his government would use to decide, but added that it would "consider all these risks," including concerns that helping Snowden would hurt trade with the U.S. and damage Ecuador's economy.
WikiLeaks gave a terse update on Snowden's condition earlier on Wednesday, saying in a statement posted to Twitter that Snowden was "well."
WikiLeaks says that one of its staffers, Sarah Harrison, was traveling with Snowden, but the statement gave no indication if the update came from her, from Snowden, or from some other source.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson did not immediately return a call and a text seeking further comment.
In a conference with reporters on Monday, Assange said that he was limited in what he could say about Snowden due to security concerns. He denied reports that Snowden was spending his time at the airport being debriefed by Russian intelligence officers.
In another development in the Snowden story, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon said Wednesday that he had decided not to represent the leaker. A statement from his law firm provided no further explanation.
Garzon, who has fought on WikiLeaks' behalf, became famous for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 and trying to put him on trial for crimes against humanity. He was suspended from office in Spain for overstepping his powers by starting an investigation into killings committed on behalf of former Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.
Yoong reported from Kuala Lumpur. Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.