- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2018

Russia’s foreign minister on Friday cast doubt on the possibility of extraditing Edward Snowden, the fugitive former National Security Agency contractor who received political asylum from Moscow after leaking classified documents to the media in 2013.

Sergey Lavrov briefly discussed the situation surrounding Mr. Snowden during an interview conducted in advance of the recently announced meeting scheduled for July 17 in Finland between President Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

“What are you prepared to give in this Summit? For example, if Donald Trump says he wants the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden back in the U.S., is that something that you would consider? Is this something that you can put on the table?” asked a reporter for the U.K.’s Channel 4.

“I have never discussed Edward Snowden with [President Trump’s] administration,” Mr. Lavrov responded. “President Putin addressed the issue some years ago. When he was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide.”

“We respect his rights as an individual,” added Mr. Lavrov. “And that’s why we were not able, we were not in the position to expel him against his will – because he found himself in Russia even without the U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”

Pressed further, the foreign minister dismissed the notion of discussing Mr. Snowden’s asylum status when the presidents meet face-to-face next month.

“I don’t know why people would start asking this particular question in relation to the Summit. Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Mr. Lavrov added.

Mr. Snowden, 35, was charged by the Obama administration in 2013 with criminal counts of theft and espionage for leaking classified material to the media, including documents exposing the NSA’s vast surveillance capabilities. His passport was revoked by U.S. authorities as he flew from Hong Kong that summer, subsequently leaving him stranded at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow before ultimately receiving asylum from Russia several weeks later.

“All I can say is that if I were President, Snowden would have already been returned to the U.S.,” Mr. Trump tweeted at the time. “Snowden is a spy who should be executed-but if it and he could reveal Obama’s records, I might become a major fan.”

Mr. Snowden did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

“The president of Russia has previously said on camera that the people of Russia consider me a human rights defender. And regardless of the position that we have on Russian politics – which obviously have a lot of problems – they said Russia is not a country that extradites human rights defenders,” he said previously.


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