PUERTO VIEJO, Ecuador (AP) — National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is "under the care of the Russian authorities" and can't leave Moscow's international airport without his U.S. passport, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa told The Associated Press Sunday.
Correa said he had no idea Snowden's intended destination was Ecuador when he fled Hong Kong for Russia last week. He said the Ecuadorean consul in London committed "a serious error" without consulting any officials in Ecuador's capital when the consul issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden. He said the consul would be punished, although he didn't specify how.
Correa said "the case is not in Ecuador's hands" and said Snowden must assume responsibility if he broke U.S. laws. Correa said the broader legitimacy of Snowden's action must be taken into consideration and Ecuador would still consider an asylum request but only if Snowden is able to make it to Ecuador or an Ecuadorean Embassy to apply.
"This is the decision of Russian authorities. He doesn't have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't," Correa said. "At this moment he's under the care of the Russian authorities. If he arrives at an Ecuadorean Embassy we'll analyze his request for asylum."
The U.S. is seeking the former NSA contractor's extradition for leaking secret documents that, among other things, detail U.S. surveillance of international online activity. On Sunday, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that classified documents taken by Snowden revealed U.S. spies had bugged European Union offices.
Correa's Sunday statement appears to contradict Russia's repeated statements that Snowden is not on Russian territory because he has not left the airport transit area, and he is free to depart whenever he likes. Russian authorities restated that position Sunday in response to Correa's comments.
Without entirely closing the door to Snowden, whom Ecuadorean authorities strongly praised earlier in the week, Correa appeared to be telegraphing that it's unlikely the 30-year-old leaker will ever end up in Ecuador. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S. legal process and praised Vice President Joe Biden for what he described as a courteous and appreciated half-hour call about the Snowden case on Friday.
He similarly declined to reject an important set of U.S. trade benefits for Ecuadorean exports, again a contrast with his government's unilateral renunciation of a separate set of tariff benefits earlier in the week.
"If he really could have broken North American laws, I am very respectful of other countries and their laws and I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities," Correa said. "But we also believe in human rights and due process."
He said Biden had asked him to send Snowden back to the United States immediately because he faces criminal charges, is a fugitive from justice and has had his passport revoked.
"I told him that we would analyze his opinion, which is very important to us," Correa said, adding that he had demanded the return of several Ecuadoreans who are in the United States but face criminal charges at home.
"I greatly appreciated the call," he said, contrasting it with threats by a small group of U.S. senators to revoke Ecuadorean trade privileges. "When I received the call from Vice President Bide, which was with great cordiality and a different vision, we really welcomed it a lot."