Ecuador's president said Thursday his government has yet to consider whether to admit U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden and warned that his asylum request could not be processed until he reached Ecuadoran territory, AFP reports.
"Would he be allowed to arrive on Ecuadoran territory? This is something that, in principle, we haven't considered," Rafael Correa told a news conference amid tensions with the United States over Quito's involvement in the affair.
"We would probably examine it, but for now he is in Russia," he said, adding that Ecuador's ambassador to Russia met Snowden just once last Monday in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
Correa said that Snowden's political asylum request was being studied, but he said Quito could not process the petition as long as he was not on Ecuadoran territory.
"You request asylum when you are on a country's territory. Snowden is not on Ecuadoran territory, so technically we cannot even process the asylum request," Correa said, according to AFP.
The Ecuadoran president also denied that his government had given Snowden a safe passage travel document or refugee papers.
The ambassador to Russia, Patricio Chavez, told Correa that Snowden was "in good health" and "confirmed his desire that Ecuador grant him asylum. We haven't had more contact since then," Correa said.
Correa said Snowden, who has been holed up in a Moscow airport since Sunday, was "in the care of Russian authorities."
The White House on Tuesday urged Russia to expel Snowden without delay, saying Moscow has a "clear legal basis" for his expulsion.
Earlier, 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.
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.
Meanwhile on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama said his country will not engage in any “wheeling and dealing” with foreign governments to secure Snowden’s extradition.