WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter sent to the Russian minister of justice this week that the United States would not seek the death penalty against Edward Snowden and would issue him a passport immediately so he could travel back to the United States.
The letter also offered reassurances that the United States would not torture Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who faces criminal charges of disclosing classified information and has been hiding in an airport in Moscow to evade U.S. authorities.
"We believe these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise," Holder said in the letter, which was sent to Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov.
A copy of the letter was provided to the New York Times on Friday by a Justice Department official, in response to questions about communications between the U.S. and Russian governments about Snowden's fate.
The charges Snowden faces in the United States do not carry the death penalty, the letter said, adding that the United States would not seek the death penalty "even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes."
Holder said Snowden's claims that he is unable to travel are false and that the United States was willing to issue him a special passport so he could return.
"Despite the revocation of his passport on June 22, 2013, Mr. Snowden remains a U.S. citizen," Holder said. "He is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States. The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr. Snowden."
The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, restated Russia's refusal to extradite Snowden, citing the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries.
At the same time, there have been indications that the administration's warning that President Barack Obama could cancel a planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin in September if Snowden remained in Russia might be complicating the issue.