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WASHINGTON — The White House says it is “seeking clarity” from Russian authorities about the status of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
A state news agency in Russia said Wednesday that Snowden has been given a document allowing him to leave the transit zone of the Moscow airport. But Snowden’s lawyer later said his client’s asylum status has not been resolved, so he will stay at the airport for now.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says the Obama administration has made clear to the Russians its desire to see Snowden returned to the U.S. to face espionage charges. Carney also had no updates on how Snowden’s status would impact President Barack Obama‘s plans to travel to Russia in September.
Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said Wednesday that the NSA leaker plans to start studying the Russian language and culture and that, for the time being, Russia is his final destination.
Kucherena’s comments came after the lawyer met with Snowden in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport amid Russian news reports that Snowden was about to receive documents that would allow him to leave the airport where he’s apparently been marooned for more than a month.
Some Russian news agencies cited unidentified sources as saying Kucherena would deliver the documents to Snowden, but the lawyer later said there was no such paperwork. Snowden has applied for temporary asylum in Russia.
In a meeting with human rights activists two weeks ago, Snowden reportedly said he eventually wanted to visit Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, all of which have offered him asylum. But Kucherena cast doubt on those intentions after Wednesday’s meeting.
“Russia is his final destination for now. He doesn’t look further into the future than that,” Kucherena said on state television.
The lawyer said that Snowden is staying in the transit zone “for now” and “intends to stay in Russia, study Russian culture.”
The American applied for temporary asylum in Russia last week after his attempts to leave the airport were thwarted. The United States wants him sent home to face prosecution for espionage.
Snowden, who revealed details of the NSA’s wide-ranging spying activities targeting data and phone communication, is believed to have been staying at the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong.
Kucherena told journalists that he has brought fresh clothes for Snowden along with several books for the American to read, including one by Anton Chekhov, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s novel Crime and Punishment.
The novel is about the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of a poor ex-student who kills a pawnbroker for her cash, and Kucherena said Snowden might find it interesting. But the lawyer told Rossiya-24: “I’m not implying he’s going through a similar mental anguish.”
President Vladimir Putin has said that Snowden can be granted asylum in Russia only if he stops leaking NSA secrets.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Federal Migration Service told the Associated Press on Wednesday that it had no information about the status of Snowden’s application for asylum.
Granting Snowden asylum would add new tensions to U.S.-Russian relations already strained by Washington’s criticism of Russia’s pressure on opposition groups, Moscow’s suspicion of U.S. missile-defense plans in Europe, and Russia’s resistance to proposed sanctions against the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad.
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