The White House on Tuesday urged Russia to expel surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden without delay, saying Moscow has a "clear legal basis" for his expulsion.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the legal basis for expelling Snowden are the status of his travel documents and the pending espionage charges against him in the United States.
"Accordingly, we are asking the Russian government to take action to expel Mr. Snowden without delay and to build upon the strong law enforcement cooperation we have had, particularly since the Boston Marathon bombing," said Hayden.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that Snowden, the former NSA contractor, is a "free man" biding his time in a Moscow airport. This came after Russia’s foreign minister had said that Snowden had never crossed the border into the country.
Putin said that Snowden, who flew to Moscow from Hong Kong on Sunday, remains in the "transit area" of Sheremetyevo International Airport, the zone between arrival gates and Russia's passport control checkpoints.
"The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself," Putin said of Snowden, according to CNN.
Noting the United States and Russia do not have an extradition agreement, Putin said Snowden can't be turned over to U.S. authorities and has committed no crimes on Russian soil.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday that the U.S. assumes that Snowden is still in Russia and that Washington “does expect the Russian government to look at all the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States.”
That Hong Kong and China allowed Snowden to leave would have a “negative impact” on those countries' relations with the U.S. “If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition responsibilities, then that is a problem,” Carney said.
Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador with the aid of WikiLeaks whose founder, Julian Assange, has been staying in Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than a year.