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Russia Can Legally Expel Snowden White House

RIA Novosti

23:29 25/06/2013 WASHINGTON, June 25 (By Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) – The White House said Tuesday that Russia has a “clear legal basis” to expel former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden from a Moscow airport transit zone based on the status of his travel documents and criminal charges he faces in the United States for allegedly leaking state secrets.

“While we do not have an extradition treaty with Russia, there is nonetheless a clear legal basis to expel Mr. Snowden, based on the status of his travel documents and the pending charges against him,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

Hayden’s comments, which came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that Snowden was holed up in a transit area in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, suggest Washington may be banking in part on bureaucracy to bring an end to the fugitive former CIA employee’s secretive sojourn in the Russian capital.

The United States has issued a warrant for Snowden’s arrest on charges of leaking details of a US surveillance program and cancelled his US passport, which Washington says should prevent him from traveling internationally.

Passengers arriving at Sheremetyevo en route to another country, as Snowden reportedly did on Sunday aboard a flight from Hong Kong, can only stay in the airport’s transit zone for 24 hours without obtaining a transit visa, which can be issued at the airport itself, according to Sheremetyevo’s website.

Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, said this week that Snowden had been given “a refugee document of passage” by Ecuador, where he has requested asylum.

Douglas McNabb, a Washington-based extradition lawyer, told RIA Novosti on Tuesday that it would be up to a given airline to decide whether to allow Snowden on a plane with the document from Ecuador in lieu of a valid passport.

Putin confirmed Tuesday that Snowden had arrived in Moscow but said that because he remained in the airport’s transit area, he had not formally entered Russian territory and was free to go wherever he pleases. Putin added that Russia could only hand over foreign citizens to countries with which it has extradition treaties.

“We don’t have such a treaty with the United States,” Putin said at a press conference in Finland. “Mr. Snowden has not committed any crimes on the territory of the Russian Federation, thank god.”

Putin said that the quicker Snowden selects a final destination, “the better it will be for us and for him,” adding that he hopes the kerfuffle will not negatively impact relations with Washington, where officials have accused Russia of impeding US attempts to bring Snowden into custody.

Hayden told RIA Novosti on Tuesday that US officials “understand that Russia must consider the issues raised by Mr. Snowden’s decision to travel there” and that they agree with Putin “that we do not want this issue to negatively impact our bilateral relations.”

She said, however, that based on the status of Snowden’s travel documents and the criminal charges against him, “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” in April.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the United States is “not looking for a confrontation” with Russia but said US officials hope “Russia would not see its interests in siding with a person who is accused of breaking the law in another nation and who is a fugitive from justice according to international standards of law.”

Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Kerry on Tuesday called for reciprocity in requesting Russia’s assistance in returning Snowden to the United States, saying that US authorities had returned seven individuals to Russia over the past two years “without any clamor, without any rancor, without any argument, and according to our sense of the appropriateness of meeting their request.”

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