- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2013

A top Russian official suggested Sunday that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden should accept Venezuela’s offer of asylum, while American officials said that any such granting of a safe haven would be taken as a direct swipe against the United States.

Alexei Pushkov, the head of the international affairs committee in Russia’s parliament, said Venezuela might be Mr. Snowden’s last refuge, though Bolivia and Nicaragua also have indicated they will accept the former contractor accused of leaking classified information about U.S. surveillance programs.

“Venezuela is waiting for an answer from Snowden,” Mr. Pushkov said on Twitter. “This, perhaps, is his last chance to receive political asylum.”

Russia’s quasi-acceptance of Mr. Snowden — he has been holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport after leaving from Hong Kong two weeks ago — has enraged some U.S. officials who say President Vladimir Putin is using the opportunity to thumb his nose at America.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Sunday that the U.S. could throw out any supposed “reset button” on its relations with Russia and Mr. Putin.

“It’s clear what he is, an old apparatchik KGB colonel, and he’s not interested in better relations with the United States,” Mr. McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If he was, he would make sure that Mr. Snowden was sent back to us. We’ve got to have a much more realistic approach to Russia and Putin in order to comport with the realities of their relations with us.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said any countries that offer Mr. Snowden political asylum are taking a step against the United States.

“Clearly any such acceptance to any country is going to put them directly against the United States, and they need to know that,” Mr. Menendez said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I’m not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum. They like sticking it to the United States.”

Mr. Menendez also said the U.S. should examine its current trade policies or preferences that exist with such countries.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Mr. Snowden’s disclosures already have harmed the United States’ relationships with other countries.

“[We will] work our way back, but it has set us back temporarily,” Gen. Dempsey said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The U.S. has revoked Mr. Snowden’s passport, and he likely would have to fly through Havana if he was to take Venezuela up on its offer.

Two weeks ago, he failed to take two seats booked in his name on a Russian Aeroflot flight to Havana, from where he was expected to fly to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Ecuador’s foreign minister has confirmed that Mr. Snowden applied for political asylum from the leftist government of President Rafael Correa.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, said Sunday that the Chinese and Russian governments have now gotten everything they needed from Mr. Snowden.

“And the next, I think, chapter in this book is somewhere in Latin America, one of these countries who is antagonistic to the United States, who is an adversary to the United States, using this as a public relations tool to continue to fan the flames of anti-Americanism,” Mr. Rogers said.

Still, a flight from Moscow to Havana, and then to somewhere in South America could be complicated, even if a place like Venezuela is willing to accept Mr. Snowden. Over suspicions that Mr. Snowden was on Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane, Mr. Morales’ recent flight from Moscow back home was rerouted.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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