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Friday 23 February 2018

US tones down calls over Snowden

Edward Snowden is in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport (AP/The Guardian)
Edward Snowden is in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport (AP/The Guardian)

Rebuffed by Russia's president, the Obama administration has toned down demands that fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden be expelled from a Moscow airport in a sign that the US believes he is not worth scuttling diplomatic relations between the former Cold War enemies.

The White House issued a measured, if pointed, statement asking again that Russia help US authorities capture Snowden - but stopped far short of threatening a cooling detente if he escapes.

It was a turnabout from tough talk against China a day earlier for letting Snowden flee Hong Kong instead of sending him back to the US to face espionage charges for revealing classified national security surveillance programs that critics worldwide say violate privacy rights.

The outright refusals by Russia and China to co-operate on Snowden served as a fresh wake-up call to the US that it cannot expect burgeoning superpowers to comply with its requests despite recent attempts to overcome long-time suspicions, and improve global partnerships.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to reporters in Saudi Arabia, called for "calm and reasonableness" as Moscow and Washington danced around Snowden's fate.

"We would hope that Russia would not side with someone who is a fugitive from justice," Mr Kerry said. "We're not looking for a confrontation. We are not ordering anybody."

Russian President Vladimir Putin also said he wished to avoid a diplomatic showdown over Snowden, but he refused to back off his refusal to turn over Snowden to the US.

"Mr. Snowden is a free man, and the sooner he chooses his final destination the better it is for us and for him," Mr Putin said. "I hope it will not affect the business-like character of our relations with the US and I hope that our partners will understand that."

Snowden remained for a third day in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport, and Putin said he was out of Moscow's reach since he had not passed through immigration and was, technically, not on Russian territory. Snowden was believed to be waiting to fly to an undisclosed location - most likely in South America or Iceland - that would give him political asylum despite frustrated US demands that he be extradited.

Experts predicted that Mr Putin, ultimately, will not stop Snowden from leaving or take any steps to help the US catch him. But Washington may have to place Snowden's escape against the risk of damaging relations as the US and Russia negotiate a number of high-priority issues, including nuclear arms reductions and a peace settlement in Syria.

Press Association

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