WASHINGTON (AFP) – As the options appeared to narrow Tuesday for fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Washington said it was hopeful that he would return home soon to face trial.
But a top U.S. official rejected Snowden’s claims that the United States was trying to bully countries into refusing his request for political asylum after he went public about the existence of US surveillance programs gathering large amounts of telephone and Internet data.
In an almost blanket cry for help, Snowden said Monday he had sought safe haven from 21 countries, hoping to be rescued from a kind of limbo in the transit area of a Moscow airport where he has been holed up for more than a week.
The U.S. has already revoked his passport, and although he remains a U.S. citizen, he has few ways of leaving Moscow without a valid travel document. The Russians have so far not allowed him to enter the country.
U.S. officials have been “in touch, as we have been for several days now, with a broad range of countries that could serve as either transit spots or final destinations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
She said the U.S. was telling countries that “Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information. He is somebody that we would like to see returned to the United States, of course. And we are hopeful that will happen.”
Asked if she would object to the characterization of such contacts as “bullying or arm-twisting,” Psaki replied: “I think that’s clear.”
Snowden on Monday accused U.S. leaders of seeking to pressure other countries to refuse to take him in, saying “these are the old, bad tools of political aggression.”
“Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who come after me.”
Psaki refused to specify which countries the U.S. had contacted most recently, although State Department officials have acknowledged speaking to the Russian and Ecuadoran governments since the crisis erupted last month.
“I’m not going to speculate on different countries,” Psaki told reporters. “Our focus here is on returning or communicating the reasons why Mr. Snowden should be returned to the United States and face charges here.”
Snowden faces U.S. federal charges of unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information, as well as theft of government property.