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The White House left no doubt on Tuesday that American patience with Russia playing host to NSA leaker Edward Snowden is wearing thin.
“The Russian government has an opportunity here to work with us,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing. “This should not be something that causes long-term problems for U.S.-Russian relations.”
Washington and Moscow have been “engaging on a number of important issues, both economic and security related issues, and we want to continue that relationship unimpeded by this issue,” Carney added. By turning over Snowden, or at least expelling him, Russia could “resolve this situation that they have been dealing with now for three weeks.”
Could the dispute over Snowden lead Obama to cancel his planned attendance at the Group of 20 summit in Russia? Carney did not close out that possibility. "The president intends to travel to Russia in September for the G20 summit. And I don't have any further announcements."
By the standards of diplo-speak, that’s nearly a “frank and candid exchange of views” – code for an all out verbal fight.
“Our interest has always been in seeing him expelled from Russia and returned to the United States,” Carney told reporters.
“He should not be allowed to engage in further international travel except as necessary to return to the United States,” Carney said of Snowden, who is regarded in some quarters as a whistle-blower for disclosing the incredibly broad sweep of NSA spying on American citizens.
“He is not a human rights activist, he is not a dissident,” Carney insisted. “He is accused of leaking classified information, he’s been charged with three felony counts related to the leaking of classified information. And for those reasons he should be returned to the United States.”
Carney's comments came after Snowden's lawyer asked Russia to give the former NSA contractor-turned-secrets-spiller temporary asylum, saying his client could face persecution and even torture or death.
Carney repeatedly underlined that Snowden, if handed over, “should be afforded every bit of due process here in the United States.”