Video: British government threatens to enter Ecuador's embassy and take Julian Assange
A DIPLOMATIC row is brewing this morning over claims that the British government is threatening to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is seeking political asylum.
Ecuador's minister for foreign affairs, Ricardo Patino, released details of a letter he said was delivered through a British embassy official in the capital of the South American country, Quito.
The letter said: "You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.
"We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us."
The dramatic development came two months after Mr Assange suddenly walked into the embassy in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault.
Mr Patino said the decision on whether Ecuador would grant Mr Assange political asylum would be announced this morning.
The British Foreign Office says the 1987 law permits the revocation of diplomatic status of a building if the foreign power occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post".
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.
A source said they understood that the legal process under which Mr Assange could be arrested at the embassy would take seven days to implement.
Mr Patino said yesterday: "The government of Ecuador is considering a request for asylum and has carried out diplomatic talks with the governments of the United Kingdom and Sweden. However, today we received from the United Kingdom a written threat that they could attack our embassy in London if Ecuador does not give up Julian Assange.
"Ecuador, as a state that respects rights and justice and is a democratic and peaceful nation state, rejects in the strongest possible terms the explicit threat of the British official communication.
"This is unbecoming of a democratic, civilised and law-abiding state. If this conduct persists, Ecuador will take appropriate responses in accordance with international law.
"If the measures announced in the British official communication materialise they will be interpreted by Ecuador as a hostile and intolerable act and also as an attack on our sovereignty, which would require us to respond with greater diplomatic force.
"Such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law of the past four centuries.
"It would be a dangerous precedent because it would open the door to the violation of embassies as a declared sovereign space."
Mr Patino said the situation affected all American states, so the government of Ecuador shall request the convening of a meeting of ministers from across the region.
He added: "The protection that Ecuador offers Mr Assange is based on universal principles and our respect for human rights and no threats of force or unilateral action towards our country will see us waive these principles."
An Ecuadorian government spokesman said yesterday: "We are deeply shocked by the British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy.
"This a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention.
"Throughout the last 56 days Mr Julian Assange has been in the Embassy, the Ecuadorian Government has acted honourably in all our attempts to seek a resolution to the situation.
"This stands in stark contrast to the escalation of the British Government today with their threats to break down the door of the Ecuadorian Embassy.
"Instead of threatening violence against the Ecuadorian Embassy, the British Government should use its energy to find a peaceful resolution to this situation which we are aiming to achieve."
The letter to Ecuador added: "We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations."
Mr Assange denies the allegations against him, but fears he will be sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.
An offer to the Swedish authorities by Ecuador for investigators to interview Mr Assange inside the London embassy was rejected.
A British Foreign Office spokeswoman denied a threat was being made.
The spokeswoman said: "We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the government of Ecuador.
"The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfil this obligation.
"We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture.
"Throughout this process we have drawn the Ecuadorians' attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK.
"We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution."