Ecuadorean prez: Russia holds Snowden's fate

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PORTOVIEJO, Ecuador -- Edward Snowden is "under the care of the Russian authorities" and can't leave Moscow's international airport without their consent, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa told The Associated Press Sunday in an interview telegraphing the slim and diminishing possibility that the National Security Agency leaker will end up in Ecuador.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has distanced himself from the case since Snowden arrived in Russia last week. But Correa portrayed Russian officials as entirely the masters of Snowden's fate.

Putin insists the 30-year-old former NSA contractor remains in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport and that as long as he has not legally entered Russia, he is out of the Kremlin's control.

However, the Kremlin also said Sunday that it will take public opinion and the views of human rights activists into account when considering Snowden's case, a move that could lay the groundwork for him to seek asylum in Russia.

"This is the decision of Russian authorities," Correa told the AP during a visit to this Pacific coast city. "He doesn't have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't."

Correa said he had no idea Snowden's intended destination was Ecuador when he fled Hong Kong for Russia last week. He said the Ecuadorean consul in London committed "a serious error" by not consulting officials in Ecuador's capital when the consul issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden. He said the consul would be punished, although he didn't specify how.

Analysts familiar with the workings of the Ecuadorean government said Correa's claims that the decision was entirely Russia's appeared to be at least partly disingenuous. They said they believed Correa's administration at first intended to host Snowden, then started backtracking this week when the possible consequences became clearer.

"I think the government started to realize the dimensions of what it was getting itself into," said Santiago Basabe, an analyst and professor of political sciences at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito.

The United States is seeking the former NSA contractor's extradition for leaking secret documents that, among other things, detail U.S. surveillance of international online activity. On Sunday, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that classified documents taken by Snowden also revealed U.S. spies had allegedly bugged European Union offices.

Correa never entirely closed the door to Snowden, but he appeared to be sending the message that it is unlikely Snowden will ever end up in Ecuador. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S. legal process and praised Vice President Joe Biden for what he described as a courteous and appreciated half-hour call Friday.

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