Edward Snowden

Snowden leaks have not hurt US foreign policy, says UN ambassador Susan Rice

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 4:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice dismissed claims that Edward Snowden’s highly classified leaks have weakened the Obama presidency and damaged US foreign policy, insisting that the United States will remain “the most influential, powerful and important country in the world”.

Rice’s remarks were her only public ones on Snowden and came in an interview with The Associated Press as she prepared to leave the UN post and start her new job on Monday as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser.

She said it’s too soon to judge whether there will be any long-term serious repercussions from the intelligence leaks by the former National Security Agency contractor who fled to Hong Kong and then Russia after seizing documents disclosing secret US surveillance programmes in the US and overseas, which he has shared with The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers.

“I don’t think the diplomatic consequences, at least as they are foreseeable now, are that significant,” she said.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have called Snowden’s leaks a serious breach that damaged national security. Hagel said on Thursday an assessment of the damage is being done now.

“There will always be difficult issues of the day,” Rice said, “and frankly this period is not particularly unique.”

“I think the Snowden thing is obviously something that we will get through, as we’ve gotten through all the issues like this in the past,” she said in the interview on Thursday before heading to a lunch in her honour hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The United States has charged Snowden with espionage and demanded his extradition, but China and Hong Kong let him fly to Moscow and the Russians have so far refused. The Snowden case has not only raised tensions with Moscow and Beijing but with many Americans concerned about the NSA collecting their Internet and phone data.

Rice dismissed commentators who say Snowden’s disclosures have made Obama a lame duck, damaged his political base, and hurt US foreign policy, saying: “I think that’s bunk.”

“I think the United States of America is and will remain the most influential, powerful and important country in the world, the largest economy, and the largest military, [with] a network of alliances, values that are universally respected,” she said.

Rice said Obama has “significant ambitions and a real agenda” for his second term, pointing to major speeches last week on disarmament and nonproliferation and this week on the impact of climate change.

As for Snowden, she said: “It’s often, if not always something, and US leadership will continue to be unrivaled, demanded, expected — and reviled and appreciated around the world.”