Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa on Saturday said the US had asked him not to grant asylum for former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in a “cordial” telephone conversation he held with US Vice President Joe Biden.
Correa said he vowed to respect Washington’s opinion in evaluating the request.
The Andean nation said it cannot begin processing Snowden’s request unless he reaches Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Snowden, who is wanted by the US for leaking details about US communications surveillance programs, is believed to still be at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow after leaving Hong Kong.
Praising Biden’s good manners in contrast to “brats” in the US Congress who had threatened to cut Ecuador’s trade benefits over the Snowden issue, Correa said during his weekly television broadcast: “He communicated a very courteous request from the United States that we reject the [asylum] request.”
Biden initiated the phone call, Correa said.
A senior White House official traveling with US President Barack Obama in Africa on Saturday confirmed that the conversation had taken place.
The case has been a major embarrassment for the Obama administration, which is now facing withering criticism around the world for the espionage program known as PRISM that Snowden revealed.
Citing secret documents, a German magazine on Saturday reported that the US bugged EU offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, which will likely add to the furor over Washington’s spying efforts.
Correa has for years been at loggerheads with Washington on issues ranging from the war on drugs to a long-running environmental dispute with US oil giant Chevron.
A leftist economist who received a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Correa denied he was seeking to perturb relations and said he had “lived the happiest days of my life” in the US.
However, he said the US has not heeded Ecuador’s request to extradite citizens sought by the law, including bankers he said have already been sentenced.
“There’s a clear double standard here. If the United States is pursuing someone, other countries have to hand them over, but there are so many fugitives from our justice system [in the US] ... and they don’t return them,” Correa said.
Correa said Ecuador’s London consulate issued Snowden an unauthorized safe-passage document, potentially as a result of communication with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who is living in the London embassy after receiving asylum last year.
Assange on Monday said Snowden had received refugee papers from the Ecuadoran government to secure him safe passage as he fled Hong Kong for Russia. Correa’s government had originally denied this.
A “safe-pass” document published by US Spanish-language media network Univision and circulated widely online purported to offer Snowden safe passage for the purpose of political asylum.
The US has revoked his passport.
“The truth is that the consul [overstepped] his role and will face sanction,” Correa said during the broadcast.
The decision was “probably in communication with Julian Assange and out of desperation that Mr Snowden was going to be captured, but this was without the authorization of the Ecuadoran government,” he said.
Correa’s critics have in recent days accused him of letting Assange take charge of crucial foreign policy matters.
Snowden’s lack of a valid travel document appears to be one of the primary obstacles to his leaving the transit area of the Moscow airport.
Without a passport, he cannot board a commercial flight or move through airport immigration, diplomacy experts say.
Ecuadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs Ricardo Patino on Thursday declined to comment on whether Quito would send a government plane to pick Snowden up, but Correa has indicated he does not have plans to provide Snowden with transport to an embassy.
Correa scoffed at reports that he himself had been aware that the document was issued or was involved in the decision.