President Barack Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, after the White House warned Moscow not to give fugitive leaker Edward Snowden a “propaganda platform” by granting him asylum.
The call came after Snowden said he wanted to claim temporary refuge in Russia, where he has been staying in an airport transfer lounge, until he could figure out how to reach permanent asylum in South America.
The Obama-Putin call had been scheduled for several days. There were no immediate details on its content, but the White House earlier said it would include discussion of Snowden and other issues.
Obama is due to travel to Moscow in September for a summit with Putin, with whom he has tricky relations, before heading on to the G20 summit in St Petersburg.
Top US officials warned Moscow that offering such status to Snowden would undercut its statements that it did not want the affair to harm relations with Washington.
“Providing a propaganda platform for Mr Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“It’s also incompatible with Russian assurances that they do not want Mr Snowden to further damage US interests.”
Carney also renewed a US call on Russia to expel Snowden so that he could be returned to American soil to face trial for leaking US national security secrets.
Snowden earlier told activists he wanted to claim asylum in Russia until he can travel on to Latin America, in his first encounter with the outside world since becoming marooned at Moscow airport three weeks ago.
He made his announcement after a meeting with human rights groups in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, which particularly irked the White House.
“We would urge the Russian government to afford human rights organizations the ability to do their work in Russia throughout Russia, not just at the Moscow transit lounge,” Carney said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki meanwhile expressed disappointment that Russian authorities facilitated Snowden’s meeting with rights campaigners.
She also denied that Washington had used the meeting to pass a message to Snowden, who caused a furor by leaking details of a National Security Agency telephone and Internet spying operations to two newspapers.
“At no point did this official or any official from the U.S. government ask anyone to convey a message to Mr Snowden,” Psaki said.