News Column

Kerry Says Snowden Matter Won't Upset U.S.-China Relations

Jul 1 2013 8:46AM
John Kerry

Secrets-leaker Edward Snowden's situation won't upset U.S.-China relations, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday during a summit in Brunei.

The United States had been critical of China's involvement in the Snowden affair but Kerry struck a conciliatory chord, saying international relationships are "often complicated."

Snowden's ability to avoid detention in Hong Kong and travel to Moscow despite a U.S. request that he be arrested prompted an angry response by Obama administration officials as the drama first played out.

The White House last week described the development as a "serious setback" to U.S.-China relations and Kerry warned that it would have "consequences" for ties with Beijing.

China was accused of facilitating a flight to Moscow by Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked information about cellphone and Internet monitoring programs. At first he was holed up in Hong Kong, then fled to Moscow and reportedly was seeking to travel to another country to avoid being returned to the United States, where he faces at least two spy-related charges.

Kerry, after meeting with his Chinese counterpart during a conference in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, hosted by Southeast Asian nations, said the Snowden matter was one of many diplomatic issues and noted that Beijing has been helpful in pressuring North Korea to refrain from provocative actions, The New York Times reported.

"Life in international relationships is often complicated by the fact that you have many things you have to work on simultaneously, and so we will continue to do that even as we are obviously concerned about what happened with Mr. Snowden," he said.

Kerry is to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Tuesday during the ASEAN conference and is expected to push for Russian cooperation in pressing Syrian President Bashar Assad to cede power and accept a political transition in his violence-ravaged country.

Kerry said he was so focused on his diplomatic mission in the Middle East and North Africa he wasn't aware of news reports that Snowden leaked information indicating the United States was eavesdropping on the European Union until the bloc's foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton spoke of it Sunday, the Times said.

"I honestly had not heard about it," Kerry told reporters.

He said he told Ashton he would look into the allegations and respond.

"I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contribute to that," he said.

What happens to Snowden is Russia's call, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said.

"He's in the international area of the Moscow airport, but basically under the care of the Russian authorities," Correa told Times. "Strictly speaking, the case is not in our hands."

Correa said his government saw weighty arguments for granting asylum to Snowden but could not begin considering them until the American reached Ecuador or one of its embassies.

Snowden's U.S. passport has been revoked. With no valid passport, he would normally not be able to pass through Russian immigration control or travel on to another country.

A Russian immigration official told the Times Snowden had not applied for a visa. The official said Snowden could remain in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport indefinitely if he wanted.

Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told Echo of Moscow radio Sunday Snowden was "not a topic on the agenda of the Kremlin."

"Since this is not our issue, I don't know what the options for the development of the situation can be," Peskov said.

Snowden flew to Moscow from Hong Kong June 23 and was reported planning to connect to a flight to Havana. From Cuba, he was to fly to Ecuador.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who praised Snowden, 30, as "a brave youth" and offered to grant him asylum, was to arrive in Moscow Monday for a two-day visit to participate in the international Gas Exporting Countries Forum.

There has been speculation Maduro might offer to take Snowden back to Venezuela on his official jet, some media outlets reported.


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Source: Copyright UPI 2013