Vice President Biden just faced off with Julian Assange, and apparently Uncle Joe's still got it. A week ago it seemed that Edward Snowden would only be making a quick stop over in the Moscow airport before making his way to Ecuador, but following a "greatly appreciated" phone call from Biden, President Rafael Correa is backpedaling furiously. Over the weekend, Correa invalidated the temporary travel pass the country issued to Snowden, and now he says it was issued by "mistake" after Julian Assange pressured Fidel Narvaez, Ecuador's consul in London. And while Snowden sent Correa a public thank-you note expressing his "sincere thanks for your government's action in considering my request for political asylum," the president says they're doing no such thing.
As Snowden's letter praising the "bravery of Ecuador and its people" was released on Monday afternoon, The Guardian was sitting in on an interview conducted earlier in the day, in which Correa expressed his indifference to Snowden's plight. Correa reiterated that Ecuador only considers asylum requests made in the country or its embassies, and said getting him there isn't his problem. "Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It's not logical. The country that has to give him a safe conduct document is Russia," he said. When asked if he'd like to meet Snowden, Correa answered, "Not particularly. He's a very complicated person. Strictly speaking, Mr. Snowden spied for some time." Ouch.
While Snowden thanked Correa for issuing the special travel document that "guaranteed my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong," saying, "I could never have risked travel without that," the president said his nation hadn't helped him in any way. "The right of asylum request is one thing but helping someone travel from one country to another — Ecuador has never done this," said Correa.
The travel pass was "a mistake on our part" that was only issued because "this crisis hit us in a very vulnerable moment." Correa explained, "Our foreign minister was touring Asia. Our deputy foreign minister was in the Czech Republic. Our US ambassador was in Italy." Apparently none of these officials have a reliable way to make international phone calls, so Ecuador fell prey to Assange's trickery. "Look, [Assange] is in the embassy, he's a friend of the consul, and he calls him at four in the morning to say they are going to capture Snowden," said Correa. "The [consul] is desperate – 'how are we going to save the life of this man?' – and does it."
Despite his overture to Ecuador, it seems Snowden has prepared for the strong possibility that they aren't coming to his rescue. On Monday night WikiLeaks revealed that Snowden requested asylum in even more nations than the fifteen previously reported. He's submitted his paperwork to Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and Venezuela. If any of those countries wants to get in on a game of diplomatic hot potato, Snowden would be happy to oblige.
Update: It's not looking good so far, Reuters reports:
Norway said he was unlikely to get asylum there, and Poland said it would not give a "positive recommendation" to any request. Finland, Spain, Ireland and Austria said he had to be in their countries to make a request, while India said "we see no reason" to accept his petition.
France said it had not received a request.
Looking best at the moment is Venezuela, whose President Nicolas Maduro just happens to be in Russia, where Snowden currently sits in limbo. "He deserves the world's protection," said Maduro. "Why are they persecuting him? What has he done? Did he launch a missile and kill someone? Did he rig a bomb and kill someone? No. He is preventing war."