Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who has ensconced himself at the Moscow airport to avoid U.S. authorities, indicated Friday that he would ask Russia for asylum while working out a longer-term solution to his situation.
Snowden, who snuck off to Hong Kong and then Russia to escape prosecution back home, has hoped to find a sympathetic country willing to offer him indefinite protection. Yet tangled international politics and tricky travel logistics have kept him grounded in an international transit zone at Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has remained out of the reach of the U.S. without technically setting foot on Russian soil.
Snowden met Friday morning with representatives from several international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Transparency International, asking them to help him secure safe passage to Latin America, and to petition the U.S. and the European Union to not interfere with his plans.
Tanya Lokshina, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Russia, released the following photo from the meeting, which offers the first new image of Snowden since he arrived in Moscow.
Snowden said Friday that a handful of countries — Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador — have offered him safe haven, but that they have been unable to guarantee a secure flight plan.
A plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced down last week in Vienna over suspicions that Snowden was on board. And on Thursday, wild speculation mounted that a plane bound for Havana was secretly carrying Snowden to freedom.
Snowden called Friday's meeting in an email message to those aid groups that read, in part:
I have been extremely fortunate to enjoy and accept many offers of support and asylum from brave countries around the world. These nations have my gratitude, and I hope to travel to each of them to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.
However, he went on to say that an "unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. Government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum" had prevented him from being able to leave his makeshift home in Sheremetyevo Airport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that he would grant Snowden asylum on one condition: That he "stop doing work that is aimed at harming our American partners." Snowden withdrew his previous asylum bid over that condition, but explained Friday he would reapply, saying, "I am only in a position to accept Russia's offer because of my inability to travel."
Putin's precondition, according to a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, still applies.
Peskov tells Ifax that previous conditions are in force: #Snowden can stay if he fully stops activities that cause damage to US.— Ellen Barry (@EllenBarryNYT) July 12, 2013
In an odd bit of irony, someone secretly recorded a snippet of the meeting and — you guessed it — leaked it to the press. Cameras were barred from the closed-door event.
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