President Obama said Thursday he hasn’t spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about extraditing confessed NSA leaker Edward Snowden, even though he’s concerned that the fugitive might reveal more top-secret information about U.S. surveillance programs.
“I have not called … President Putin personally and the reason is because, number one, I shouldn’t have to,” Mr. Obama said at the start of a weeklong tour of Africa. “We are going through the regular legal channels that are involved when we try to extradite somebody.”
As U.S. authorities have sought to extradite the former NSA contractor, Mr. Snowden fled from Hong Kong to Russia last weekend. Officials in China and Mr. Putin have rejected the Obama administration’s appeals to send him back to the U.S.
While Mr. Obama sought to convey that he has bigger issues to handle besides Mr. Snowden, he also acknowledged that the fugitive may have more classified information to reveal.
“I continue to be concerned about the other documents that he may have,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s part of the reason why we’d like to have Mr. Snowden in custody. But what I think we’re going to continue to do is make sure we are following the various channels that are well-established and the rules that are well-established to try to get this thing done.”
The president tried portray Mr. Snowden’s case as not worth his full attention, although it has received heavy press coverage for weeks.
“No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” Mr. Obama said in response to a reporter’s question, getting wrong the age of the 30-year-old former CIA employee, whose birthday was Friday.
“We’ve got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia, and I’m not going to have one case of a suspect who we’re trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I’ve got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues simply to get a guy extradited so that he can face the justice system here in the United States,” he said.
Russia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S., but Mr. Obama said that shouldn’t matter in this case.
“You don’t have to have an extradition treaty … to resolve some of these issues,” Mr. Obama said. “There have been some useful conversations that have taken place between the United States’ government and the Russian government, and my continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum recognize that they are part of an international community and that they should be abiding by international law. And we’ll continue to press them as hard as we can to make sure that they do so.”