By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate panel voted unanimously on Thursday to seek trade or other sanctions against Russia or any other country that offers asylum to former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been holed up for weeks at a Moscow airport.
The 30-member Senate Appropriations Committee adopted by consensus an amendment to a spending bill that would direct Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with congressional committees to come up with sanctions against any country that takes Snowden in.
Snowden is wanted by the United States on espionage charges for revealing details of government intelligence programs. He arrived in Moscow on June 23 from Hong Kong, where he had fled to escape capture and trial in the United States.
He has asked for temporary asylum in Russia until he can reach a country that will shelter him, but U.S. authorities have made clear they will be deeply disappointed if Russia lets the fugitive leave the airport.
Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they could offer sanctuary to Snowden.
Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said he introduced the amendment to try to get the attention of any country that might take in Snowden, not Russia in particular, although he noted Moscow has lined up against the United States on other issues, including the civil war in Syria.
“When it comes to Russia, it’s just not about Snowden. They are allying with Iran, 100,000 Syrians have been killed, they are providing weapons to Assad that are getting in the hands of Hezbollah. And really enough’s enough,” said Graham, who has suggested the U.S. consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
The amendment would direct Kerry to meet with congressional committees to develop sanctions options “including revocation or suspension of trade privileges and preferences.”
It was not immediately clear how any sanctions program would work, and the spending bill is several steps from becoming law.
But the United States has a number of programs that provide international trade benefits to developing countries, including Bolivia and Venezuela, which could be affected.
The country also has a free trade agreement with Nicaragua that could come under scrutiny.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Thursday that President Barack Obama’s administration was having “ongoing conversations” with Russia and that authorities there had not made clear Snowden’s status.
(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen)