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Snowden's Russia asylum bid may resolve case: Ecuador

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is pictured June 29, 2013
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, pictured June 29, 2013, said Edward Snowden's bid for sanctuary in Russia could resolve a standoff with the United States.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, whose government has mulled an asylum request from US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, said Monday the fugitive's abrupt bid for sanctuary in Russia could resolve his fate.

But the leftist leader said in an interview with AFP that his government would process the former National Security Agency contractor's political asylum request if Snowden manages to enter an Ecuadoran embassy.

Snowden -- whose US passport was revoked after he leaked a vast US Internet and phone surveillance program -- has been holed up and in legal limbo in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for more than a week.

"My opinion is that the request to the Russian government could definitely resolve Mr. Snowden's situation," Correa told AFP after Moscow announced that it received a political asylum application from Snowden.

"I think that if he is on Russian territory and makes an asylum request in Russia, the situation can be processed and resolved there," he said from the Carondelet presidential palace in Quito.

"Legally, Russia has the case," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden, who revealed a vast US Internet and phone surveillance program, was welcome to stay as long as he stopped leaking US intelligence reports.

A Russian foreign ministry official said the asylum request was submitted on Sunday by Sarah Harrison, a British citizen who works for the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks and has accompanied Snowden since his June 23 trip from Hong Kong.

Correa disagreed with Putin's assertion that Snowden should cease revealing US secrets.

"I respect Russia and its president a lot, but I don't share this view. It would be good if Mr. Snowden would tell the world everything he knows," he said.

Correa has voiced support for Snowden, saying he would consider his asylum bid, but he indicated in recent days that Quito cannot help him until he sets foot on Ecuadoran soil or a diplomatic mission.

"The moment he arrives at our embassy, we can process it there," said Correa, whose announcement last week that he would study Snowden's asylum request had angered Washington, which has filed espionage charges against the fugitive.

"We will never disassociate ourselves from these issues or those that affect humanity. If Mr. Snowden reaches Ecuadoran territory and confirms his asylum request, we would have to process it and we would do it in sovereignty," he said.

Correa also addressed a report that the United States had bugged European Union officials, saying that it showed "the biggest espionage case in the history of humanity."

He said "an explanation must be given about what happened, measures must be taken so that this never happens again and those responsible must be punished."

Correa meanwhile said he had urged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to stop speaking in Ecuador's name.

"The conduct of Assange has bothered me a little and this morning I spoke with the foreign minister (Ricardo Patino) to tell him not to speak about our country's situations," Correa said.

Ecuador has sheltered Assange at its embassy in London since August 2012 and the Australian's organization has been assisting Snowden in his flight from US justice.

Last week, Assange told reporters that Ecuador had given Snowden, whose passport was revoked by the United States, a refugee travel document, but Correa said Saturday that his London consul had made a decision beyond his rank by issuing the paper.

Correa revealed over the weekend that US Vice President Joe Biden had telephoned him to ask him to reject Snowden's bid, a call that Assange denounced on Sunday as "pressure" on Quito.

Snowden lashed out at the administration of US President Barack Obama in a statement Monday, accusing Washington of leaving him a "stateless person" and pressuring governments not to grant him asylum.

But the Ecuadoran president said Biden had not applied pressure and that the US vice president had been "very friendly, very courteous."

The Snowden case has put Ecuador on a collision course with the United States, with Quito unilaterally withdrawing from a trade pact last week, saying it had become an instrument of blackmail.

Correa, however, said the Snowden affair could actually help to improve bilateral relations.

"Bilateral relations shouldn't be affected," he said.