How Joe Biden's Charm Kept Edward Snowden Stuck in Russia
Following a "friendly and very cordial" phone call from Vice President Biden, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa seems to have distanced himself from Edward Snowden and any potential asylum request to Ecuador on his behalf. Washing his hands out of responsibility over Snowden, Correa said that Snowden is "under the care of Russian authorities" and portrayed the Russian government as ultimately in charge of his fate.
Correa's most recent statements are in contrast from accounts from Ecuadorean officials and even the Ecuadorean consul in London, raising the suspicion that the Ecuadorean President is backtracking after pressure from the United States. Snowden had initially been issued a letter of safe passage to travel to asylum in Ecuador from the consul in London, but Correa rejected the validity of the letter, saying that the consul had not consulted with officials in the capital and would be punished for their "serious error." He also dismissively offered little comment on accounts from anonymous Ecuadorian officials, who claim that Russia interfered with Ecuador's attempts to retrieve Snowden from the Moscow airport and grant him political asylum.
Additionally, it seems that Ecuador's defiance towards the United States might have been tempered down by Friday's phone call from Biden. Earlier, Ecuador's Communications Minister Fernando Alvarado announced that Ecuador would renounce their tariff benefits on hundreds of millions of dollars in trade with America, in response to threats to block their renewal from Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Condemning the trade agreement as a "new instrument of blackmail" and adding insult to injury, Alvarado also offered $23 million (the amount Ecuador gains from the trade pact) to the United States to fund human rights training.
President Correa has said that they will only consider an asylum request from Snowden if he makes it to Ecuador or an Ecuadorean embassy. Furthermore, during a weekly presidential address on Saturday, he noted, "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. But the decision is ours to make."
Meanwhile, in a separate interview with the Associated Press, Correa declined to reject a set of U.S. trade benefits for Ecuadorean exports (different from the tariff benefits), inconsistent with Communications Minister Alvarado's announcement earlier in the week.
However the Ecuadorean government chooses to proceed, it seems that they are not eager to harbor an American fugitive, despite the little love and sympathy they have for United States government. In the meantime, Snowden has applied for asylum in Russia and 14 other countries, making the "Where in the World is Edward Snowden?" game that much more interesting.