The United States on Monday increased pressure on Russia to hand over Edward Snowden, the American charged with disclosing secret US surveillance programmes, and said it believed he was still in Moscow despite reports he was leaving for Cuba.
Earlier Snowden, until recently a contractor with the US National Security Agency, had been expected to fly to Havana from Moscow, perhaps on the way to Ecuador, but he was not seen on the plane and Russian officials declined to say where he was.
The US State Department said diplomats and Justice Department officials were engaged in discussions with Russia, suggesting they were looking for a deal to secure his return.
“Given our intensified co-operation working with Russia on law enforcement matters ... we hope that the Russian government will look at all available options to return Mr Snowden back to the US to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged,” spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
Snowden flew to Moscow after being allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday, even though Washington had asked the Chinese territory to detain him pending his possible extradition on espionage charges.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the administration’s attempts to bring Snowden into US custody and blamed China for assisting in his departure from Hong Kong. He said it would damage US China relations.
Carney said it was the US assumption that Snowden was still in Russia and pressed Russia to use all options to expel him to the United States.
President Barack Obama said his government was “following all the appropriate legal channels working with various other countries to make sure the rule of law is observed”.
Carney slammed those countries from which Snowden had chosen to seek protection, saying his choice belied his claim that he was focused on supporting transparency, freedom of the press and individuals’ rights.
He sharply criticised Hong Kong. “This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship,” he said.
Video: US Secretary of State John Kerry warned of consequences to ties with Moscow and Beijing over Edward Snowden's flight from Hong Kong to Russia, saying it was "deeply troubling" if requests for his extradition had been ignored.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN Snowden’s activities could threaten the security of China as well as that of the United States.
“People may die as a consequence to what this man did,” he said. “It is possible that the United States would be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in some way or another that they didn’t know before. This is a very dangerous act.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements. Asked if Snowden had spoken to the Russian authorities, Dmitry Peskov said: “Overall, we have no information about him.”
Other Russian officials said Moscow had no obligation to co-operate with Washington, citing legislation passed in the United States to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russians accused of violating human rights.
The Russian news agency Interfax quoted an unnamed source as saying Moscow could not arrest or deport Snowden because he had not actually entered Russian territory – suggesting he had remained in the transit area at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Putin has missed few chances to champion public figures who challenge Western governments and to portray Washington as an overzealous global policeman.