QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa on Saturday said the United States asked him not to grant asylum for former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in a “cordial” telephone conversation he held with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Correa said he vowed to respect Washington’s opinion in evaluating the request. The Andean nation says it cannot begin processing Snowden’s request unless he reaches Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for leaking details about U.S. communications surveillance programs, is believed to still be in the Moscow international airport after leaving Hong Kong.
“He communicated a very courteous request from the United States that we reject the (asylum) request,” Correa said during his weekly television broadcast, praising Biden’s good manners in contrast to “brats” in Congress who had threatened to cut trade benefits over the Snowden issue.
Biden initiated the phone call, Correa said.
“When he (Snowden) arrives on Ecuadorean soil, if he arrives … of course the first opinions we will seek are those of the United States,” Correa said.
A senior White House official traveling with President Barack Obama in Africa on Saturday confirmed the conversation had taken place.
Correa’s government has for years been at loggerheads with Washington on issues ranging from the war on drugs to a long-running environmental dispute with U.S. oil giant Chevron.
Correa, a leftist economist who received a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, denied on Saturday that he was seeking to perturb relations and said he had “lived the happiest days of my life” in the United States.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Quito and Mark Felsenthal in Johannesburg; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Vicki Allen)