Moscow. A decision on whether or not Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who is facing charges of espionage in the US, will be given asylum in Ecuador could take months, officials say.
Richard Patino, the country’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday during a state visit to Malaysia that it took two months for the country to make a decision in the case of Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblowing website Wikileaks, and that Snowden’s case would take at least as long from the time the request was filed.
Snowden is currently in hiding in the transit area of the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow, the Russian capital.
Also on Wednesday, a senior US politician issued a strong warning to cut ties with Ecuador if that country takes him in.
Robert Menendez, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he would seek to end the preferential treatment for goods if the South American nation offers political asylum to Snowden. Menendez said he would lead the effort to prevent the renewal of Ecuador’s duty-free access to US markets under the Generalised System of Preferences programme, and also to block the renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, both of which expire at the end of next month.
Ecuador exported $5.4 billion worth of oil, $166m of cut flowers, $122m of fruits and vegetables and $80m of tuna to the US under the Andean trade programme in 2012.
Ecuador said that pending its decision on Snowden’s request, Washington should argue its case for extraditing the former National Security Agency contractor back to the United States.
Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, also called on Russia for his extradition on Wednesday, telling the US media that Snowden’s leaks of classified information on widespread US surveillance programmes had been a “serious security breach” that damaged US national security.
Russia says that since Snowden is in the transit area, he has not technically entered the country and hence cannot be extradited.
Snowden had arrived at the Moscow airport from Hong Kong. Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, said an earlier US request to arrest Snowden while he was there did not fully comply with its legal requirements.
But Jay Carney, the White House spokesperson, lashed out at Beijing, saying its failure to “honour extradition obligations” had dealt a “serious setback” to efforts to build trust with China’s new president, Xi Jinping. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, has said he would “almost certainly” grant political asylum to Snowden.
“If he asked us for it, we would think about it and we would almost certainly give it to him, because political asylum is an international human rights institution to protect the persecuted,” Maduro said.
The US has been seeking Snowden’s custody since he leaked details of secret US government surveillance programmes.