Berlin wants to question Snowden in Moscow

In this image made from video released by WikiLeaks on Friday, Oct 11, 2013, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden, center, receives the Sam Adams Award in Moscow, Russia. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
In this image made from video released by WikiLeaks on Friday, Oct 11, 2013, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden, center, receives the Sam Adams Award in Moscow, Russia. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

BERLIN (AFP) - The German government will study whether United States (US) fugitive leaker Edward Snowden can be questioned in Russia, as it sought on Wednesday to calm tensions with London and Washington over spy allegations.

Members of a German parliamentary committee overseeing the secret services agreed to ask the government to examine the possibility of Snowden answering questions in Moscow, provided it does not create "difficulties" for him there, its chairman Thomas Oppermann said.

The former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor has said he is ready to help Germany following revelations, based on documents he provided, that have included the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone.

"Questioning in Germany is not up for debate at the moment," Oppermann told reporters after a meeting of the committee, adding it could not be ruled out that Snowden would be extradited to the US.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned in German daily Bild against Snowden being granted asylum and called for his extradition.

"He should be transferred to the US where our justice system guarantees him a fair trial in line with American laws," he was quoted as saying in pre-released German excerpts of Thursday's edition.

Germany has already rejected an asylum request from Snowden earlier this year on the grounds that any applicant must be in the country.

But opposition politicians and major media outlets have called for asylum to be granted.

Friendly and close relations ============================

Snowden was given asylum in Russia in August to the fury of the US where he is wanted on espionage charges following disclosures that have provoked international uproar and strained US ties with allies.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the possibility of questioning Snowden in Russia would be examined. "We'll now check that in the government," he said.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert also expressed the government's conditional support.

"If a questioning of Mr Snowden, be it by representatives of the Bundestag lower house of parliament or representatives of the federal prosecutor's office, in Russia is considered reasonable, the government will, in the framework of its possibilities, support this," he told reporters.

On Saturday, a Kremlin spokesman said Snowden was free to speak with whomever he chooses, including foreign authorities, under his temporary refugee status.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Snowden is welcome to stay in Russia as long as he does not harm US interests.

Berlin summoned the US ambassador last month in a rare move between the transatlantic partners over the evidence of snooping on Mrs Merkel's communications.

On Tuesday, it also asked to speak to Britain's ambassador following a media report that London has been operating a secret listening post from its embassy in Berlin.

A German foreign ministry spokesman told reporters on Wednesday the "intensive half-hour" meeting had been a "dialogue" as is the case between partners "who cultivate friendly and close relations with each other".

The heads of Germany's foreign and domestic intelligence services also briefed the committee members on their recent talks with US officials in Washington, including on a No-Spy Agreement between Germany and the US.

The planned accord offers the "one-off opportunity to win back trust that has been lost", Mrs Merkel's chief of staff Ronald Pofalla said.

Mr Seibert stressed to reporters that, for Germany, the transatlantic alliance is of "extremely high value" in security and foreign policy terms.

He reiterated that "probably hardly any other country has benefitted as much as Germany from a close transatlantic relationship and a close friendship".