Snowden's Russia asylum bid may resolve case: Ecuador

QUITO (AFP) - Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, whose government has mulled an asylum request from US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, said on Monday the fugitive's bid for sanctuary in Russia could resolve the standoff.

"My opinion is that the request to the Russian government could definitely resolve Mr Snowden's situation," Mr Correa told AFP in an interview after Moscow announced that it received a political asylum application from Snowden.

Mr Correa reiterated that his government cannot process Snowden's asylum request because he is not on Ecuadoran territory. Snowden has been holed up in legal limbo in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for more than a week.

"The moment he arrives at our embassy, we can process it there," said Correa, whose announcement last week that he would study Snowden's asylum request had angered Washington, which has filed espionage charges against the fugitive.

But the leftist leader, who voiced support for Snowden last week, said Snowden's Russian asylum application could help clarify his fate.

"Now that he has made the asylum request to the Russian government, he can process that request," Correa said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden, who revealed a vast US Internet and phone surveillance program, was welcome to stay as long as he stopped leaking US intelligence reports.

A Russian foreign ministry official said the asylum request was submitted on Sunday by Sarah Harrison, a British citizen who works for the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks and has accompanied Snowden since his June 23 trip from Hong Kong.

Mr Correa meanwhile said he had urged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to stop speaking in Ecuador's name.

"The conduct of Assange has bothered me a little and this morning I spoke with the foreign minister (Ricardo Patino) to tell him not to speak about our country's situations," Mr Correa said.

Ecuador has sheltered Assange at its embassy in London since August 2012 and the Australian's organisation has been assisting Snowden in his flight from US justice.

Last week, Assange told reporters that Ecuador had given Snowden, whose passport was revoked by the United States, a refugee travel document, but Mr Correa said Saturday that his London consul had made a decision beyond his rank by issuing the paper.

Mr Correa revealed over the weekend that US Vice-President Joe Biden had telephoned him to ask him to reject Snowden's bid, a call that Assange denounced on Sunday as "pressure" on Quito.

But the Ecuadoran president said Mr Biden had not applied pressure and that the US vice-president had been "very friendly, very courteous." The Snowden case has put Ecuador on a collision course with the United States, with Quito unilaterally withdrawing from a trade pact last week, saying it had become an instrument of blackmail.

Mr Correa, however, said the Snowden affair could actually help to improve bilateral relations.

"Bilateral relations shouldn't be affected," he said.

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