US Vice President Joe Biden has asked Ecuador to reject whistleblower Edward Snowden's request for asylum, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has said. Snowden is believed to be holed up in a Moscow airport terminal.
Correa discussed the conversation with Biden during his weekly television address, noting that Ecuador would consult the United States before making a decision. He also said he had explained to Biden that Ecuador cannot process the former National Security Agency contractor's request unless he is physically in the South American country.
"The moment that he arrives, if he arrives, the first thing is we'll ask the opinion of the United States, as we did in the Assange case with England," Correa said. "But the decision is ours to make." Ecuador granted refuge to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London last year.
Snowden, who is wanted in the US to face espionage charges, requested asylum from Ecuador last weekend after leaving Hong Kong.
The Friday phone conversation between Correa and Biden is the highest-level talk the US and Ecuador have disclosed since Snowden began seeking asylum.
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed that the leaders spoke by phone on Friday about Snowden, but she did not offer details of the conversation.
Correa referred to Biden's request as "friendly and very cordial" and said he explained to the American leader that Ecuador had not sought to be put in a position where it must decide whether to grant refuge to an American fugitive.
He said the Internet and phone surveillance programs that the former National Security Agency subcontractor revealed amount to the biggest espionage case in history.
Embassy staffer faces punishment
Ecuadorean officials have acknowledged that their embassy in London issued Snowden a letter of safe passage to help allow him to travel to Ecuador, but the letter was deemed invalid because it was issued without central government approval.
A diplomat apparently made a decision above his rank and gave Snowden a temporary travel document for someone with plans to request asylum. Correa explained that a London consul gave the document to Snowden and exceeded "his authority in doing so."
"He will be punished," Correa said of the diplomat.
Meanwhile, Snowden is believed to be holed up in a Moscow aiport's transit area, awaiting an opportunity to flee and seek asylum.
Correa offers advice
Correa also took the opportunity to encourage the United States to explain the once-secret programs rather than focus solely on catching Snowden.
"The really grave thing is what Snowden has reported," Correa said. "He will have to assume his responsibilities, but the grave thing is his reporting of the biggest massive spy operation in the history of humanity, inside and outside the United States."
Correa also rebuked the Obama administration for hypocrisy, referring to the case of brothers Roberto and William Isaias, bankers who Ecuador has been seeking to extradite from the United States. "Let's be consistent. Have rules for everyone, because that is a clear double-standard here," Correa said.
The Snowden case has been a major embarrassment for the Obama administration, which has been subject to worldwide criticism for the espionage program known as Prism that Snowden revealed.
tm/ccp (AP, AFP, Reuters)