WASHINGTON — The United States is “extremely disappointed” in Russia’s decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, the White House said Thursday.
In its first public response to Russia’s move in defiance of U.S. wishes, the Obama administration said it was not a positive development for U.S.-Russia relations and said that it undermined Russia’s record of law enforcement cooperation with the U.S. The White House added that it is re-evaluating whether President Barack Obama should attend an upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and private that Mr. Snowden be expelled and returned to the United States,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Carney said that Moscow had given the U.S. no advance notice before announcing its decision to grant Snowden asylum for one year.
Snowden left the transit zone of a Moscow airport and officially entered Russia after authorities granted him asylum, his lawyer said. The U.S. has demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution on espionage charges over his leaks that revealed wide U.S. electronic surveillance programs, but Putin dismissed the request.
Some U.S. lawmakers have reacted angrily, insisting there be serious repercussions for Putin’s decision to snub the Obama administration and that the U.S. must re-evaluate its approach to Moscow in light of the decision. Even before Russia’s move Thursday, some lawmakers were calling for the U.S. to boycott next year’s Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi, Russia.
“Russia’s action today is a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States. It is a slap in the face of all Americans,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia.”
Carney wouldn’t commit that the U.S. will take any specific steps in retribution, pointing only to the fact that Obama is reconsidering the summit with Putin, planned for the fall in Moscow. But he added that the U.S. has a complicated, wide-ranging relationship with Russia, suggesting the U.S. was reluctant to allow relations to deteriorate too substantially over the American fugitive’s status.
“There is no question that there are a range of issues, setting aside the disposition of Mr. Snowden, on which we are currently in disagreement with Russia,” he said.
Of top concern to Obama’s national security team is Russia’s role in the conflict in Syria, where Washington and Moscow are supporting opposing sides in the nation’s 2-year-old civil war. Moscow is one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key backers despite America’s insistence that Assad must cede power.
The move by Moscow Thursday could also strain U.S.-Russian relations over Syria, American criticism of Russia’s human rights record and other disputes. Putin has said that his decision on asylum was contingent on Snowden not hurting U.S. interests.
Carney wouldn’t say whether Snowden is in possession of further information about spying practices that could damage the U.S. if released, but said the fact that Snowden removed classified information from secure environments, bringing documents with him to Hong Kong and then to Moscow’s airport, posed a risk in and of itself
“Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower” or a dissident, Carney said. “He is accused of leaking classified information. He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible.”