WASHINGTON – Rebuffed by Russia’s president, the Obama administration toned down demands Tuesday that fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden be expelled from a Moscow airport in a sign that the U.S. believes he is not worth scuttling diplomatic relations between the former Cold War enemies.
The White House issued a measured, if pointed, statement asking again that Russia help U.S. authorities capture Snowden – but stopped far short of threatening a cooling detente if he escapes. It was a turnabout from tough talk against China a day earlier for letting Snowden flee Hong Kong instead of sending him back to the U.S. to face espionage charges.
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to reporters in Saudi Arabia, called for “calm and reasonableness” as Moscow and Washington danced around Snowden’s fate.
“We would hope that Russia would not side with someone who is a fugitive from justice,” Kerry said. “We’re not looking for a confrontation. We are not ordering anybody.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also said he wished to avoid a diplomatic showdown over Snowden. But he refused to back off his refusal to turn over Snowden to the U.S.
“Mr. Snowden is a free man, and the sooner he chooses his final destination the better it is for us and for him,” Putin said.
Snowden remained for a third day in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport, and Putin said he was out of Moscow’s reach since he had not passed through immigration and was, technically, not on Russian territory.