Vice President Biden has asked Ecuador to turn down an asylum request from Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor charged with espionage for leaking classified intelligence, the country’s president said Saturday.
Rafael Correa said he had a “friendly and very cordial” conversation with Biden in which he told the vice president that Ecuador had not sought the awkward role of deciding whether to harbor an American fugitive, the Associated Press reported.
Correa said Ecuador cannot consider an asylum request until Snowden reaches Ecuador or one of its embassies.
“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 was quoted as saying during a weekly television address in his country. “But the decision is ours to make.”
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed that the two leaders had “engaged in a broad conversation” by phone Friday that included a discussion of Snowden’s case, but she declined to provide details. It is the highest-level conversation between the countries that has been publicly disclosed since Snowden began seeking asylum from Ecuador.
Snowden, 30, is wanted by the United States for leaking details about U.S. communications surveillance programs. The Justice Department has charged him with violating American espionage laws. He is believed to be in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow after leaving Hong Kong last weekend.
Correa said his conversation with Biden was initiated by the vice president. The Ecuadoran leader praised Biden for being more polite than U.S. senators who have threatened economic penalties if Ecuador doesn’t cooperate in the case.
“He communicated a very courteous request from the United States that we reject the [asylum] request,” Correa said, according to Reuters news service.
The diplomatic situation has been complicated in recent days by tensions between Ecuador’s government and Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Assange, who has been given asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London, appears to have had a role in obtaining a travel document for Snowden that bore the name, but not the signature, of the London consul.
The document could have helped Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked, leave Moscow. But on Thursday, Correa, who has praised Snowden for exposing spying, declared the document invalid.
Assange is set to appear Sunday on ABC News’s “This Week.”
Ecuador’s foreign press agency reported Friday that diplomats from Ecuador, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela plan to meet Monday to discuss the Snowden case. If he traveled to Quito, the Ecuadoran capital, from Moscow on a commercial flight, he probably would have to stop in Cuba or Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said it is “almost certain” that his nation would grant asylum to Snowden if requested, according to published reports. Maduro is scheduled to be in Moscow on Monday to participate in the international Gas Exporting Countries Forum.
Kathy Lally in Moscow contributed to this report.