Obama seeks to calm tensions over Snowden

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DAKAR: United States (US) President Barack Obama sought on Thursday (Friday in Manila) to calm tensions surrounding fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s stay in a Moscow airport as it appeared he did not possess documents allowing him to travel further.

Snowden, who is wanted by the US authorities for leaking sensational details of US surveillance to the media, is said by the Kremlin to have been in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport since arriving on a flight from Hong Kong on Sunday.

But in a mystery that has captivated the world, there has not been a single sighting of
Snowden at the airport and his onward travel plans remain an enigma after he failed to board a flight on which he was booked to Havana on Monday.

The episode risks further ratcheting up tensions between Washington and Moscow, as well as Beijing, which are already strained by the conflict in Syria.

But Obama insisted the United States—which has revoked Snowden’s passport—would not scramble jets to intercept him should he fly from Russia.

“I am not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” Obama said on a visit to Senegal, oddly giving the wrong age for the 30-year-old former National Security Agency (NSA) technician.

Obama indicated he did not want to ruin ties with Moscow and Beijing for the sake of Snowden, saying that the US and China relationships were broad and ranged over many issues.

He also rejected any “wheeling and dealing” over Snowden and said he had not called President Xi Jinping of China or Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the issue.

“The reason is, number one, I shouldn’t have to. This is something that routinely is dealt between law enforcement officials in various countries,” said Obama.

Putin has indicated that Moscow is keen to see the back of its unexpected visitor, while also strongly rejecting US pressure to hand over Snowden as the two countries have no extradition treaty.

“The sooner this [he flies onwards from Moscow]happens, the better,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Ecuador, whose embassy in London is already giving refuge to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as he faces extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault, has said it is considering an asylum request from Snowden.

In a show of independence on Thursday, Ecuador waived preferential rights granted under a trade agreement with the United States.

But senior Ecuadorean foreign ministry official Galo Galarza denied claims by WikiLeaks that Quito gave Snowden a travel document after his US passport was cancelled.

“He doesn’t have a document supplied by Ecuador like a passport or a refugee card as has been mentioned,” Galarza said.

His comments appeared to reject a report by Spanish-language TV network Univision that Ecuador had issued a “safe pass” transit permit for Snowden.

AFP

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