A former US intelligence service contractor who leaked secret documents about surveillance techniques has made a formal request for asylum to Venezuela. Now he just needs to get there.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told reporters in Caracas late on Monday that while his country would welcome Edward Snowden with open arms, it would be up to him to make his way there.
"We have received the asylum request letter," the president said. "He will have to decide when he flies, if he finally wants to fly here."
Maduro also repeated a statement that he has made repeatedly over the last few days, indicating that although the Venezuelan authorities would still have to decide the matter, Snowden could expect them to look favorably on his request for asylum.
"We told this young man, 'you are being persecuted by the empire, come here,'" Maduro said, referring to the United States. He also described offers from not just Venezuela but also Nicaragua and Bolivia as "collective humanitarian political asylum."
At the same time he conceded that apart from the formal asylum request, there had been no contact between Snowden and Venezuelan officials.
The 30-year-old Snowden, who has spent more than two weeks in the transit area of one of Moscow's international airports, has applied for asylum in some 27 countries.
The United States has repeatedly demanded that the former contractor with the US National Security Agency and former Central Intelligence Agency employee be extradited to stand trial for charges of espionage for leaking details of a wide-reaching surveillance program, known as Prism.
Possible additional obstacles
Earlier, a US State Department spokesperson repeated a stern warning from Washington.
Jen Psaki told reporters that "any country where he may be moving in transit, where he could end up and certainly any country that were to grant asylum, that could have an impact, of course, on our bilateral relationship."
Even if Snowden decides to fly to Venezuela, he could face other obstacles, a prospect, which was underlined by the forced diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales' jet as he was flying home after a visit to Moscow last week. Suspicions that Snowden might be on board led to a number of European countries refusing it permission to fly through their airpace.
pfd/hc (AFP, dpa)