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Snowden's asylum further strains US-Russian relations

By Tangi Quemener in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-03 07:34

 Snowden's asylum further strains US-Russian relations

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena shows a copy of Edward Snowden's refugee documents granted by Russia in Moscow on Thursday. Snowden slipped quietly out of the airport after securing asylum, ending more than a month in limbo in the transit area. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Planned Obama-Putin summit, ministerial meeting put in doubt

Russia's granting of asylum to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden marked a sharp setback to already strained US-Russian relations, experts and lawmakers said on Thursday.

US President Barack Obama's administration once hoped to "reset" relations with the US former Cold War foe, but his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has remained frosty.

Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, is wanted by Washington for leaking secret details about US surveillance programs and had been holed up at a Moscow airport for more than a month.

Russia has refused to extradite him, and on Thursday provided the 30-year-old with safe haven for a year, allowing him to promptly slip away to a secret location.

"This is not good news," said Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Prominent members of the US Congress slammed Russia's move, seeing it as a blow to relations already strained by the conflict in Syria and the conviction of Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny.

"Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a US courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia," said Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to US-Russia relations."

Republican Senator John McCain issued a sarcastic response on Twitter.

"Snowden stays in the land of transparency and human rights. Time to hit that reset button again Russia," he wrote.

Boycotts threatened

White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested Obama might even boycott a planned US-Russia presidential summit in early September ahead of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg.

"We're evaluating the utility of a summit in light of this," Carney told reporters.

"This move by the Russian government undermines a long-standing record of law enforcement cooperation, cooperation that has recently been on the upswing since the Boston Marathon bombings."

Pifer, for one, suggested a moderate response was the best way forward. "I'm not sure that pushing back really hard is going to help," said Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine.

"We don't know what motivated this particular decision by the Russians now, but Putin has shown that he reacts very badly to threats."

US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that a meeting of foreign and defense ministers could also be called off.

But she said the two nations have cooperated in areas such as the Afghan war, Iran's contested nuclear program and on reducing nuclear arms arsenals.

Russia and the US have "both been very clear that this is an example of something that we want to treat separately, that we don't want it to adversely affect the whole relationship," she said.

The Russian decision also comes at a time when the Obama administration faces criticism in Congress over the spy programs, with the aftermath of Snowden's leaks providing what is likely the best chance since the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, to rein them in.

On July 24, the US House of Representatives narrowly beat back an effort to cut funding to NSA programs that scoop up telephone data on millions of US citizens.

Under mounting pressure from lawmakers, the Obama administration, in the name of transparency, on Wednesday declassified a court order authorizing the collection.

And on Thursday afternoon, Obama met with 10 lawmakers from both parties to discuss surveillance, in discussions the White House and lawmakers both called "constructive".

"The president committed that he and his team would continue to work closely with the Congress on these matters in the weeks and months ahead," the White House statement said.

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 08/03/2013 page8)

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