WASHINGTON, July 1 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama on Monday said the United States and Russia have had “high-level” discussions about the case of fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and reiterated Washington’s hopes for Russian assistance in bringing him back home to face charges on leaking state secrets.
“There have been high-level discussions with the Russians about trying to find a solution to the problem,” Obama said during a visit to Tanzania.
“We are hopeful that the Russian government makes decisions based on the normal procedures regarding international travel and the normal interactions that law enforcement have,” Obama added.
Obama’s comments came amid reports Monday that Snowden had applied for political asylum in Russia and several other countries from a transit zone in a Moscow airport, where he is reportedly hiding out.
They also came as Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Russia could consider the request under one condition.
“If he wants to go somewhere [another country] and is accepted, he can. If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our US partners,” Putin said Monday.
Reached by RIA Novosti on Monday, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment on Putin’s statement and said she would not comment on a possible worsening in bilateral ties resulting from the “hypothetical” scenario in which Moscow would offer political refuge to Snowden.
Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Security Council, told the state-owned Rossiya-24 television network Monday that Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller were ordered by their respective presidents to “remain in constant contact and find ways” to resolve the standoff.
Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who has a US warrant out for his arrest on charges of disclosing details of a secret government surveillance program, has reportedly been hiding out in a transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport together with Sarah Harrison, a lawyer with the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.
A Russian consular official at the airport told RIA Novosti on Monday that a British citizen named Sarah Harrison had submitted a request at the Sheremetyevo consulate that Russia grant Snowden political asylum, though Russian migration officials said there had been no such request.
The United States has revoked Snowden’s passport, but US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told a news briefing Monday that Washington would issue him a one-time travel document to allow him to re-enter the United States and face a “free and fair trial” like any American facing “serious charges.”
“He has a country to return home to, which is the United States of America,” Ventrell said.
“We’re still evaluating the article because the problem is that these things come out in dribs and drabs,” Obama said in Tanzania. “We don't know necessarily what programs they’re referring to, we don’t know how they’re sourced.”
Obama said once his administration had identified the specific activities addressed in the article, “we’ll communicate to our [European] allies appropriately.”
He defended US intelligence-gathering activities as the type of operations routinely conducted by intelligence services across the globe.
“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's how intelligence services operate.”
Traveling in Brunei on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment on the specifics of the reported US bugging of European allies but like Obama said intelligence gathering is a normal activity for governments throughout the world.
Kerry said Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, raised the issue with him Monday at that they “agreed to stay in touch” concerning the matter.
“I agreed to find out exactly what the situation is, and I would get back to her,” Kerry said.