QUITO – Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged him in a phone conversation not to grant asylum to whistle-blower and former CIA employee Edward Snowden, who is wanted by U.S. authorities for revealing details about classified surveillance programs.
In his Saturday radio address, Correa said the chat with Biden was “extremely friendly, extremely cordial” and that he told the vice president that if Ecuador processes the asylum request from Snowden the “first to be consulted about it would be the United States.”
The Ecuadorian leader said the country would make a sovereign decision, noting that it could not handle the request from Snowden at this time because the erstwhile National Security Agency contractor is not in the South American country.
Snowden, who initially fled to Hong Kong after leaking details about the NSA’s massive surveillance of telephonic and Internet communications, completed his sixth day in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Correa said Biden asked Ecuador to reject the request for asylum from Snowden, who faces charges under the 1917 Espionage Act, because the ex-CIA employee is a “fugitive” who “has no passport.”
Ecuador is currently harboring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up at the Andean nation’s embassy in London because Britain refuses to grant him safe conduct to the airport.
According to media reports, however, Ecuador has complicated Snowden’s efforts to travel to the country due to concerns Assange was usurping the Andean nation’s role in the matter. Correa said Friday that a travel document issued by Ecuador’s London consul was not authorized, the reports said.
The Ecuadorian government said Thursday that it was voluntarily relinquishing U.S. trade preferences after Washington lawmakers called for the benefits to be revoked if Quito grants asylum to Snowden.
Correa also recalled in his Saturday address that the United States has long denied Ecuador’s request for the extradition of brothers Roberto and William Isaias, former owners of a bank that was at the center of a 1990s financial meltdown that cost Ecuadorian taxpayers more than $8 billion.
Last year, the brothers were sentenced in absentia in Ecuador to eight years in prison.