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Kremlin: Snowden has given up on plan to stay in Russia

Posted at 11:43 AM, Jul 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-02 11:43:45-04

By Matt Smith and Jethro Mullen

(CNN) — Edward Snowden has abandoned his effort to seek asylum in Russia after President Vladimir Putin warned that he would have to stop leaking information about U.S. surveillance programs if he wanted to stay, a Russian official said Tuesday.

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said it had submitted asylum requests to 19 more countries for Snowden, the ex-National Security Agency computer contractor who has admitted providing secret documents on surveillance programs to reporters.

Snowden has been holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport for more than a week.

“Snowden did voice a request to remain in Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. “Then, yesterday, hearing President Putin outline Russia’s position regarding the conditions under which he could do this, he withdrew his request for permission to stay in Russia.”

Putin said Monday that Snowden “must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners” if he wanted to stay in the country.

The other countries where WikiLeaks said it had submitted asylum requests on Sunday range from Latin America through Europe and on to Asia.

On Tuesday, Poland said it grants asylum if the country’s interests are at stake.

“This particular premise would not be met,” the Foreign Ministry said about Snowden’s case.

Snowden had already sought asylum in Iceland and in Ecuador, which had said it was considering the request. But recent comments from the Ecuadorian president suggest the South American country’s support for Snowden’s flight across the globe may be waning.

The United States has been pressing countries to refuse Snowden entry and hand him over to face espionage charges. His disclosures have created a political storm at home and diplomatic headaches abroad for President Barack Obama.

WikiLeaks released a statement attributed to Snowden late Monday in which he blasted the Obama administration for trying to block his efforts to seek refuge.

“These are the old, bad tools of political aggression,” Snowden said. “Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.” But he added, “I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.”

‘A stateless person’

WikiLeaks, which has been assisting Snowden’s effort to find a haven from the U.S. charges, said that the documents it had submitted for the latest asylum requests “outline the risks of persecution Mr. Snowden faces in the United States and have started to be delivered by the Russian consulate to the relevant embassies in Moscow.”

Peskov said Tuesday that Snowden’s asylum requests had been forwarded to 15 countries, the semiofficial Interfax news agency reported. It didn’t specify which of the requests hadn’t been forwarded.

Snowden has said he was the source of NSA documents leaked to British and U.S. newspapers that revealed details of secret American surveillance programs. He flew to Moscow from Hong Kong after the United States requested his extradition.

Russian officials have said he is in the transit zone of the airport and hasn’t passed through immigration into the country’s territory. But so far, no reporters have caught sight of Snowden in the expansive area for transiting passengers.

In addition to Russia, WikiLeaks said it had sent new asylum requests to representatives of Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.

In Monday’s statement, Snowden criticized the Obama administration for yanking his passport once criminal charges were filed, “leaving me a stateless person.” But he said the administration isn’t afraid of people like him or others accused of disclosing U.S. secrets.

“No, the Obama administration is afraid of you,” he said. “It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.”

Ecuador says it’s up to Russia

And while Ecuador has said it was considering Snowden’s request, President Rafael Correa told the British newspaper The Guardian that the American fugitive would have to reach Ecuadorian territory for his request to be considered.

“Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It’s not logical,” Correa told The Guardian, one of the recipients of Snowden’s leaks. “The country that has to give him a safe conduct document is Russia.”

He added that the decision to issue Snowden temporary travel documents that allowed him to leave Hong Kong was “a mistake on our part,” The Guardian reported.

Over the weekend, Correa said Vice President Joe Biden has asked Ecuador “to please reject” Snowden’s request. And Obama said Monday that Snowden had traveled to Russia without a valid passport or legal papers and that he hoped that Moscow would handle the case as it would any other travel-related matter.

Obama confirmed that the United States and Russia have had “high-level” discussions about Snowden, after an earlier report from Russia that the two nations’ top law enforcement officials were working together to resolve the situation.

Snowden says he leaked the classified information because he believes the U.S. surveillance programs he revealed exceed constitutional limits.

But U.S. government officials have defended the measures, describing them as necessary, legal tools in the effort to counter threats against the United States.

Europe fuming over report

Snowden has also disclosed information alleging U.S. spying on other governments.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Sunday that information from Snowden detailed NSA bugging of European Union offices in Washington and New York, as well as an “electronic eavesdropping operation” that tapped into an EU building in Brussels, Belgium.

That report has fueled mounting anger throughout Europe, with French President Francois Hollande threatening to halt talks with the United States on trade and other issues unless the bugging is stopped.

Obama responded to the latest furor Monday, saying that all nations, including those expressing the strongest protests, collect intelligence on each other.

Asked at a news conference in Tanzania about the latest leaks involving Snowden, Obama said he needed more information on the specific programs cited in the Der Spiegel report, but made clear such spying was commonplace.

“I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders,” Obama said. “That is how intelligence services operate.”

CNN has not independently confirmed the allegations in the Der Spiegel report.

Nations respond to requests

Below is a list of countries’ comments on Snowden’s asylum requests:

• Austria: His request is not valid, because applicants must be in Austria and submit their applications in person.

• Bolivia: “Yes, why not,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said, according to Russia’s state-run Itar-Tass news agency, which cited the Russia Today news network. “We are worried at the demeanor of countries such as U.S.A.” However, despite WikiLeaks’ statement, Morales said Bolivia has not received a request for asylum on Snowden’s behalf, Itar-Tass reported.

• Brazil: The country won’t grant asylum or even respond to the request, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

• China: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday it had no information to offer on Snowden’s case.

• Cuba: No response yet.

• Ecuador: The South American country has said that it’s considering Snowden’s request but that he needs to reach its territory.

• Finland: “We don’t have an official application from Snowden,” Jorma Vuorio, director general for the migration department of the Interior Ministry, told CNN. “He just left a letter requesting asylum at the Finnish Embassy in Moscow. According to Finnish legislation, it is not possible to leave an asylum application outside the Finnish territory.”

• France: No response yet.

• Germany: No response yet.

• Iceland: Officials have said asylum seekers need to be in Icelandic territory in order to apply.

• India: Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said Tuesday that India will deny the request.

• Ireland: The Irish Justice Ministry declined to confirm whether it had received a request on Snowden’s behalf, but said Irish law requires that applicants reach the country’s borders before a request can be considered.

• Italy: The Italian Foreign Ministry said it received an asylum request by fax. The country accepts requests done in Italian territory or at the border, the ministry said.

• The Netherlands: No response yet.

• Nicaragua: No response yet.

• Norway: The country confirms the receipt of his request, but usually, asylum seekers must be in the country already to be allowed to apply. The Ministry of Justice is considering whether or not to process his application.

• Poland: Snowden’s request for asylum doesn’t fulfill requirements, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.

• Russia: Snowden has withdrawn his request for permission to stay in Russia, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said Tuesday, according to the news agency RIA Novosti.

• Spain: The country is not reviewing Snowden’s request because it must be made from within or on its borders, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

• Switzerland: No response yet.

• Venezuela: “We haven’t been asked for help, but when he asks, he will have an answer,” President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday.

CNN’s Arkady Irshenko, Tom Cohen, Sumnima Udas, Steve Brusk, Barbara Starr, Miriam Falco, Kathryn Tancos, Alexander Hunter, Claudia Rebaza, Patrick Oppmann, Josh Levs, Catherine Shoichet, Carol Jordan, Al Goodman, Steffi Ott and Susanna Palk contributed to this report.

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