Thursday 22 March 2018

Obama: no bartering for Snowden

Transit passengers eat at a cafe in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport as a TV screens a report on Edward Snowden in the background (AP)
Transit passengers eat at a cafe in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport as a TV screens a report on Edward Snowden in the background (AP)
Edward Snowden flew to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport from Hong Kong (AP)
Edward Snowden is thought to still be in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport (AP)

The United States won't be scrambling military jets or engaging in high-level diplomatic bartering to get National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden extradited, President Barack Obama has said.

Dismissing him as "a 29-year-old hacker," Mr Obama sought to downplay the international chase for Snowden, lowering the temperature of an issue that has already raised tensions between the US and uneasy partners Russia and China. Mr Obama said the damage to US national security has already been done and his top focus now is making sure it can't happen again.

"I'm not going to have one case with a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly be elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so he can face the justice system," Mr Obama said at a news conference with Senegal's President Macky Sall.

Snowden's intercontinental efforts to avoid US authorities - taking him from a hotel hideout in Hong Kong to an airport transit zone in Moscow, where he's believed to be holed up - has already undercut Mr Obama's efforts to strengthen ties with China and threatened to worsen tensions with Russia just as he is seeking Moscow's co-operation on Syria.

At the same time, Snowden's attempts to seek asylum from Ecuador and other nations have underscored Mr Obama's limited sway in a number of foreign capitals. The president said he hadn't personally called either Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping to request their co-operation. "I shouldn't have to," he declared.

Mr Obama said such matters are routinely dealt with at a law-enforcement level, calling Snowden's extradition "not exceptional from a legal perspective." Mr Putin has called Snowden a "free man" and refused to turn him over to Washington.

"My continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum recognise that they are a part of an international community and they should be abiding by international law," Mr Obama said, noting that the US doesn't have a formal extradition treaty with Russia.

Snowden has acknowledged seizing highly classified documents about US surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of US phone and Internet records.

Earlier Hong Kong officials said the US government got Snowden's middle name wrong in documents it submitted to back a request for his arrest. Hong Kong allowed him to fly to Moscow on Sunday, saying the request for his arrest did not fully comply with its requirements. The US Justice Department denied that.

Mystery surround his whereabouts after Mr Putin said that Snowden was in the transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport. Mr Putin said he had not passed through immigration and was free to go where he liked.

Press Association

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