News Column

Obama Dismisses Snowden as a 'Hacker'

June 27, 2013

US President Barack Obama said Thursday that Washington would not use heavy-handed tactics like intercepting airplanes to catch whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," Obama told a press conference in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

The president added that he "won't engage in wheeling, dealing and trading" to get the fugitive extradited to the US.

Snowden, who turned 30 on June 21, is an IT expert and former National Security Agency contractor, who is being sought by Washington for espionage after he exposed US spying activities.

He was believed to be stuck at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for a fifth day Thursday. He has applied for asylum in Ecuador.

Obama confirmed that Washington fears Snowden could leak more sensitive information. "We don't yet know what other documents he may try to dribble out there," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Snowden would not be handed over because Moscow does not have an extradition treaty with the US.

"Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr Snowden asylum" should abide by international law, Obama said. "And we'll continue to press them as hard as we can to make sure that they do so," he said.

But an unnamed source told the Interfax news agency Thursday that the case had reached a dead end.

"(Snowden) is not ready to give up because he won't leave the (airport's) transit zone and won't cross the border into Russia. And Moscow is waiting," the source said, adding that the case might also be solved if a third country grants asylum to Snowden.

But that appeared to be elusive, as Ecuador said that it could not handle his request.

"Snowden's application for asylum could not be processed because the applicant is not on Ecuadorian territory," Betty Tola, Ecuador's Secretary for Political Management told the press.

It was unclear why Snowden could not hand his request to Ecuadorian diplomats, who reportedly met him at the airport on Sunday. A spokesman of the Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow declined to comment.

The mission had said in a statement Wednesday that Snowden had filed an asylum application in which he argues that he fears receiving an unfair trial in the US and being sentenced to life imprisonment or death.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said earlier Thursday that Snowden's asylum request could be decided in as little as one day.

Tola also denied news reports that Ecuador had issued transit papers to Snowden, whose US passport has been revoked by Washington.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said earlier this week that Snowden had been issued an Ecuadorian "refugee document of passage." US Spanish-language television channel Univision on Wednesday published what it said was a copy of that document, a letter from Ecuador's London Embassy.

The Ecuadorian embassy in London has been the refuge of Wikileaks founder Assange since June 2012.

The only document for refugees valid for international travel are so-called 1951 Convention travel documents, which are only issued after a person has been recognized as a refugee, a senior expert from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, said Thursday.

The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, said that it usually "takes four months and longer" to get refugee recognition in Russia.

Snowden was still believed to at Sheremetyevo airport, where reporters gathered for another day in hopes of spotting him. But neither Snowden nor Wikileaks activist Sarah Harrison, who has accompanied him since he left Hong Kong Sunday, were seen on the flight to Havana Thursday afternoon.

Media reports had speculated that Snowden would be able to fly via Cuba to Ecuador.

Meanwhile, Ecuador said Thursday that it would renounce tariff preferences with the United States.

US lawmakers had warned earlier they would block the preferences' renewal if Quito grants the whistleblower asylum.

Government spokesman Fernando Alvarado accused Washington of using the preferences, which generate millions of dollars, for pressuring the Latin American country.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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