Niagara Gazette

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July 12, 2013

Snowden wants Russia asylum

Niagara Gazette — MOSCOW — National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wants asylum in Russia and is willing to stop sharing information as a trade-off for such a deal, according to a lawmaker who was among a dozen activists and officials to meet with him Friday at the Moscow airport where he has been marooned for weeks.

Snowden appeared nervous, but in apparently good health during the meeting behind closed doors in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport, Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters.

Human Rights Watch provided a photo of Snowden at the meeting, the first new image to appear of the former NSA systems analyst since the Guardian newspaper broke the story of widespread U.S. Internet surveillance based on his leaks.

Whether Russia would be willing to take Snowden up on his request is unclear. The Kremlin has signaled that it wants Snowden out. But granting asylum would be a diplomatically risky move, threatening to worsen Moscow-Washington already strained by U.S. criticism of President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on the country's opposition and Putin's allegation that the U.S. is meddling in Russian affairs.

But it would allow Putin to portray Russia as a principled defender of human rights and openness, despite the fact that it allows its security agencies to monitor the Internet.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, told Russian news agencies after the announcement that Russia has not yet received a new bid for asylum and that Putin would continue with his insistence that Snowden stop leaking information.

Both Nikonov and Genri Reznik, a lawyer who participated in the meeting, said Snowden was willing to stop leaks.

"He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the United States' interests given that he is a patriot of his country," Nikonov said. However, it is unclear whether Snowden still is holding onto potentially sensitive information about U.S. intelligence operations.

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