PORTOVIEJO, Ecuador — Edward Snowden is "under the care of the Russian authorities" and can't leave Moscow's international airport without their consent, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa told the Associated Press on Sunday in an interview telegraphing the slim and diminishing possibility that the National Security Agency leaker will end up in Ecuador.
Correa portrayed Russia as the master of Snowden's fate and said Ecuador is still awaiting an asylum request from Snowden before deciding its next moves. The United States is seeking the former NSA contractor's extradition for leaking secret documents that, among other things, detail U.S. surveillance of international online activity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has distanced himself from the case since Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23, insisting the 30-year-old former NSA contractor remains in the transit zone of the capital's Sheremetyevo Airport and that as long as he has not legally entered Russia, he is out of the Kremlin's control.
At the same time, the Kremlin said Sunday that it will take public opinion and the views of human rights activists into account when considering Snowden's case, a move that could lay the groundwork for him to seek asylum in Russia.
"This is the decision of Russian authorities," Correa told the AP during a visit to Portoviejo, a Pacific coast city. "He doesn't have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't. At this moment, he's under the care of the Russian authorities. If he arrives at an Ecuadorean Embassy, we'll analyze his request for asylum."
Snowden traveled to Moscow on his U.S. passport. Although the United States had already revoked it, Hong Kong authorities said they hadn't received the official request to cancel the passport before Snowden left.
The founder of the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, also said Sunday that Snowden was unable to leave Moscow without a valid American passport. Assange, whose group has sought to aid Snowden, said on ABC's This Week, "The United States, by canceling his passport, has left him for the moment marooned in Russia."
Correa said he had no idea Snowden's intended destination was Ecuador when he fled Hong Kong for Russia last week. He said the Ecuadorean consul in London committed "a serious error" by not consulting officials in Ecuador's capital when the consul issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden. He said the consul would be punished.
Analysts familiar with the workings of the Ecuadorean government said Correa's claims that the decision was entirely Russia's appeared to be at least partly disingenuous. They said they believed Correa's administration at first intended to host Snowden, then started back-tracking when the possible consequences became clearer.
On Sunday, Correa did not entirely close the door to Snowden, whom he said had drawn vital attention to the U.S. eavesdropping program and potential violations of human rights. But Correa appeared to be sending the message that it is unlikely Snowden will ever end up in Ecuador. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S. legal process and praised Vice President Joe Biden for what he described as a courteous call about the Snowden case on Friday.
Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.