- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Venezuelan officials say they have received a formal request for asylum from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who has been trapped in legal limbo in the transit lounge of Moscow’s international airport for more than two weeks.

But the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks said Tuesday that Mr. Snowden has not yet accepted Venezuela’s — or any other country’s — offer of political asylum.

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro in Caracas said late Monday that “an asylum request letter arrived” from Mr. Snowden, according to Spain’s EFE news agency.

Mr. Snowden himself “will have to decide when he will fly here,” said Mr. Maduro, who last Friday had offered “humanitarian asylum” to the 30-year-old former information technology contractor.

In Moscow, Alexei Pushkov, a prominent Russian lawmaker, posted Tuesday on his Twitter account that Mr. Snowden had accepted Venezuela’s offer, but the posting was deleted within a few minutes.

Mr. Pushkov heads the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee and has acted as the Kremlin’s unofficial intermediary in the Snowden affair.

Soon after the posting on his Twitter account disappeared, Mr. Pushkov sent another message saying his claim was based on a report from the state all-news television channel Rossiya 24, also known as Vesti.

The channel said Mr. Pushkov misunderstood its report on Mr. Maduro’s comments Monday night during a meeting with Panama’s president, which the anchorwoman introduced by saying “Venezuela has finally received an answer” from Mr. Snowden.

In an effort the clarify the matter, WikiLeaks, which has been advising Mr. Snowden, said Tuesday on Twitter that Mr. Snowden had not formally accepted the Venezuelan offer, and that any decision on asylum would be announced by the “states concerned” and “then be confirmed by us.”

U.S. officials have hunted for Mr. Snowden since he divulged information about NSA’s classified electronic surveillance programs last month. Authorities have revoked Mr. Snowden’s U.S. passport and requested that allies and other nations not facilitate his onward travel, except to the United States to face trial on espionage charges.

If he were to leave the Moscow airport, Mr. Snowden would have to do so without passing over the airspace of the United States or that of its allies in order to avoid capture.

Asked about possible U.S. reprisals if Venezuela were to take Mr. Snowden in, Mr. Maduro said, “The U.S. doesn’t govern the world. We’re a free and sovereign country.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Snowden said that British electronic eavesdropping is even more intense than that by the NSA, his former employer.

His comments appeared in an interview published Monday by German magazine Der Spiegel. The interview was conducted in May, via encrypted email, before the journalists communicating with him knew his identity, and much of the exchange is technical in nature, designed to establish Mr. Snowden’s bona fides.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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