QUITO (REUTERS) - Ecuador does not plan to intervene with the British government on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to negotiate a way for him to leave the South American country's embassy in London, where he has lived under asylum since 2012, Ecuador's foreign minister said on Tuesday (Oct 23).
Foreign Minister José Valencia said in an interview with Reuters that Ecuador's only responsibility was looking after Assange's well-being, after the Australian national sued the country over new conditions placed on his asylum in the London embassy.
“Ecuador has no responsibility to take any further steps,” Mr Valencia said. “We are not Mr Assange’s lawyers, nor are we representatives of the British government. This is a matter to be resolved between Assange and Great Britain.”
Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment after normal business hours.
Mr Greg Barns, an Australian lawyer advising Assange, said in an e-mail that “developments in the case in recent times” showed the need for Australia’s government to intervene to assist “one of its citizens who faces real danger”.
Ecuador's position marks a departure from the country’s previous practice of maintaining dialogue with British authorities over Assange’s situation since granting him asylum in 2012, when he took refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy after British courts ordered his extradition to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual molestation case.
That case has since been dropped, but friends and supporters have said that Assange now fears he could be arrested and eventually extradited to the United States if he leaves the embassy.
WikiLeaks, which published US diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation, faces a US grand jury investigation.
Mr Valencia said he was “frustrated” by Assange’s decision to file suit in an Ecuadorean court last week over new terms of his asylum, which required him to pay for medical bills and telephone calls and to clean up after his pet cat.
“There is no obligation in international agreements for Ecuador to pay for things like Mr Assange’s laundry,” he said.
Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno has said that asylum is not meant to be eternal, but he has expressed concern about the possibility that Assange may be extradited to the US. Mr Valencia said on Tuesday that he has not discussed Assange’s situation with the US government.
Last December, Ecuador granted Assange Ecuadorian citizenship and sought to name him a member of the country’s diplomatic mission in Britain and Russia, which could have assured him safe passage to leave the embassy. Britain denied the request.