President Obama talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday about granting U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden asylum, but the White House released only a terse description of the conversation.
“The two leaders noted the importance of U.S.-Russian bilateral relations and discussed a range of security and bilateral issues, including the status of Mr. Edward Snowden and cooperation on counter-terrorism in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics,” the White House said.
Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters about the phone call during a press briefing, noting that the call had been on the schedule for a few days.
Even though Obama administration officials have insisted they don't want negotiations over Snowden to harm the United States' relationship with Russia, Carney had some harsh warnings for Russia after reports that the country was considering offering asylum to Snowden — at least temporarily until he can reach one of three Latin-American countries that have offered to take him in..
“Providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government's previous declarations of Russia's neutrality and that they have no control over his presence in the airport,” he said. “It's also incompatible with Russian assurances that they do not want Mr. Snowden to further damage U.S. interests.”
The 30-year old former defense contractor has remained in a Moscow airport for the last two weeks after first fleeing to Hong Kong to escape U.S. authorities after who sought to charge him for leaking a trove of information about the National Security Agency's surveillance and data-gathering networks.
Snowden's U.S. passport has been revoked and he has reportedly accepted an offer of asylum from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He met earlier Friday with Vyacheslav Nikonov, chairman of the Russian state Duma, Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International Russia, Vladimir Lukin, Russia's presidential human rights ombudsman, attorney Genri Reznik and Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch.
Reporters asked Carney if he believed human rights groups were being used by Snowden. While Carney said the groups do important work, he stressed that Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident, but a fugitive of the law who has been charged with three felony counts.
He also had a stern message for Russia: “I think we would urge the Russian government to afford human rights organizations the ability to do their work in Russia through Russia, not just at the Moscow transit lounge.”
Carney also said Obama still plans to travel to Russia for the G20 summit of industrialized world leaders in September and didn't have any updates to his travel schedule.