NEW: Ecuadorian consul in London will face sanctions for giving travel papers to Snowden
VP Joe Biden asks Ecuador "to please reject" any asylum request from Edward Snowden
But Snowden hasn't made any asylum request, Ecuador President Rafael Correa says
"We have to act very carefully but with courage," Correa says
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden asked Ecuador “to please reject” the request for asylum from self-avowed National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, according to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.
Snowden wasn’t in Ecuador on Saturday, but if he does arrive there, the country will make a decision based on sovereignty, taking into account U.S. input, Correa said in his weekly broadcast on state TV.
Ben Rhodes, deputy director of the U.S. National Security Council, confirmed that Biden spoke with Correa about Snowden and the bilateral relationship, but Rhodes declined to provide details.
In a telephone conversation with Biden on Friday, Correa told him “what was the Ecuadorian position” and that Ecuador “can’t even proceed with the request because Mr. Snowden is not in Ecuadorian territory.”
Correa said Ecuador would be cautious about processing any asylum request from Snowden.
“We have to act very carefully but with courage, without contradicting our principles but with a lot of care, responsibility and respect of course towards the U.S. but also respect for the truth,” Correa said.
The president said that he doesn’t want “to harm his country” but is “not going to give up on the principles and the sovereignty” of Ecuador.
“We need to be very realistic. We use the U.S. currency. We are extremely vulnerable. We shouldn’t make any false assumptions,” Correa said.
Snowden, 29, faces espionage charges in the United States for allegedly leaking top-secret details about U.S. surveillance programs.
Correa said that the first ones to be consulted “would be the U.S. as we did in the Assange case with England.” He was referring to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who’s been residing in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for almost a year.
Ecuador granted asylum last year to Assange so he could avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is sought for questioning in two alleged sex crimes that he denies. Assange fears ultimately being transferred to the United States, he said.
Earlier this month on CNN’s AC360, Assange spoke from the embassy and urged Snowden to go to Latin America because it has “a long tradition of asylum.”
Correa said neither he nor officials in Quito authorized travel documents that diplomats in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London issued to Snowden.
The document “was issued without our knowledge,” and he blamed the consul in London, Correa said.
“They think I’m such an idiot that I ordered our consul in London to issue a document so an American citizen can leave China and travel to Russia. This consul will face the necessary sanctions,” Correa said.
Biden made his phone call the day after Correa and other top Ecuadorian officials said they wouldn’t bow to U.S. pressure about Snowden.
Ecuador is turning down trade benefits given by the United States as part of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, Ecuadorian officials said.
On Thursday, Correa gave a fiery speech.
“In the face of threats, insolence and arrogance of certain U.S. sectors, which have pressured to remove the preferential tariffs because of the Snowden case, Ecuador tells the world we unilaterally and irrevocably renounce the preferential tariffs,” Correa said. “It is outrageous to try to delegitimize a state for receiving a petition of asylum.”
The South American country is now in the international spotlight as a global manhunt continues for Snowden, a fugitive who has admitted leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs.
Snowden worked as a security guard at the U.S. National Security Agency, then in a computer security job with the CIA, and then as an NSA analyst with government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii.
CNN’s Claudia Rebaza in Quito and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.