PRESIDENT Barack Obama has said he will not start “wheeling and dealing” with China and Russia over an American request to extradite former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Mr Obama, who appeared concerned yesterday that the case would overshadow a three-nation tour of Africa that he began in Senegal, also dismissed suggestions the US might try to intercept Mr Snowden if he were allowed to depart Moscow by air.
“No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” he told a news conference in Dakar.
Mr Obama said regular legal channels should suffice to handle the US request that Snowden, who left Hong Kong for Moscow, be returned. He said he had not yet spoken to China’s Xi Jinping or Russian leader Vladimir Putin on the issue.
“I have not called President Xi personally or President Putin personally and the reason is …number one, I shouldn’t have to,” he said. “Number two, we’ve got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia, and I’m not going to have one case of a suspect who we’re trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I’ve got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues.”
Mr Snowden fled from the US to Hong Kong after leaking details of secret American government surveillance programmes, then flew to Moscow last Sunday. He had been expected to fly on to Havana on Monday but did not board the aircraft.
The American, who faces espionage charges in the US and has asked Ecuador for political asylum, has not been seen since arriving in Moscow. Russian officials said he remained in a transit area at Sheremetyevo airport.
The case has raised tensions between the US and both China and Russia. Yesterday, Beijing accused Washington of hypocrisy on the issue of cyber security. Mr Snowden’s revelations of widespread snooping by the US National Security Agency (NSA) in China and Hong Kong have given Beijing considerable ammunition in an area that has been a major irritant between the countries.
China’s defence ministry said the US government surveillance programme, known as Prism, “has revealed the concerned country’s true face and hypocritical behaviour”.
“This ‘double standard’ approach is not conducive to peace and security in cyber space,” defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun was quoted as telling reporters.
Mr Obama who admitted the leaks had exposed “pretty significant vulnerabilities” at the NSA, said the US expected all countries who were considering asylum requests for Mr Snowden to follow international law.
However, his remarks about China and Russia seemed calibrated to exert pressure without leading to lasting damage. The White House said last week that Hong Kong’s decision to let Snowden leave would hurt US-China relations. Its rhetoric on Russia has been somewhat less harsh.
Mr Obama acknowledged that the US did not have an extradition treaty with Russia but such a treaty was not necessary to resolve all the issues involved.
“My continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr Snowden asylum recognise that they are part of an international community and that they should be abiding by international law,” he said.
Mr Putin has rejected US calls to expel Mr Snowden to the US and said the fugitive should choose his destination and leave the airport as soon as possible. Ecuador has said it could take weeks to decide on his asylum request.
Cyber row hots up as Ecuador makes ‘human rights’ offer to US
Ecuador’s left-wing government has thumbed its nose at Washington by renouncing US trade benefits and offering to pay for human rights training in America, in response to pressure over asylum for former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The angry response threatens a showdown between the two nations and may burnish Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa’s credentials to be the continent’s principal challenger of US power after the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
“Ecuador will not accept pressures or threats from anyone, and it does not traffic in its values or allow them to be subjugated to mercantile interests,” a government spokesman said.
In a cheeky jab at the US, he offered $23 million (£15m) a year to finance human rights training. It would help “avoid violations of privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity”, the spokesman said, adding that the amount was the equivalent of what Ecuador gained each year from the trade benefits.
US senator Robert Menendez has said he would seek to end those benefits if Ecuador gave Mr Snowden asylum.
Leaders clash on gay rights
President Obama has praised the US Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage as a “victory for American democracy” but clashed with his African host over gay rights.
Mr Obama said recognition of gay unions in the US should cross state lines and that equal rights should be recognised universally.
But Senegalese president Macky Sall rebuffed his call for Africans to give gays equal rights under the law. “We are still not ready to decriminalise homosexuality,” he said, while insisting his country was “very tolerant”.
Amnesty International says 38 African countries criminalise homosexuality. In Mauritania, northern Nigeria, southern Somalia and Sudan, the punishment is death.