WH: U.S.-China relationship negatively impacted over Snowden

June 24, 2013 at 3:17 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- Allowing the man who leaked data about U.S. intelligence monitoring to leave China will negatively impact the U.S.-China relationship," the White House said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday "at no point" during discussions with Hong Kong officials concerning extraditing Edward Snowden to the United states were any issues raised about the sufficiency of the U.S. arrest request.

"In light of this, we find their decision to be particularly troubling," Carney said.

Carney also said credulity was stretched concerning Hong Kong's semi-autonomous government citing a technicality for allowing the man accused of leaking data on the National Security Agency's cellphone and Internet monitoring programs to leave. He said the officials had "plenty of time" to resolve any issues they may have had with the arrest warrant.

"This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant," Carney said. "And that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship."

Snowden, who admitted releasing details about the NSA surveillance programs, arrived in Moscow Sunday from Hong Kong, where he fled after disclosing the classified information to two newspapers. He reportedly is seeking asylum in Ecuador, the nation that gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange refuge in its London Embassy as Assange fights extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual assault case.

The Hong Kong government maintained during the weekend the U.S. request to extradite Snowden did not include enough information to legally detain him or bar him from leaving the country.

Carney said Attorney General Eric Holder called his counterpart in Hong Kong, "stressing the importance of the matter and urging Hong Kong to honor our request for Snowden's arrest."

The White House spokesman said there were "repeated engagements" by the State Department and the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, as well as the FBI and its counterpart.

While not speculating on repercussions, Carney said: "[The] Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. ... And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem. And that is a point we are making to them very directly."

Carney said the administration understands Snowden was still in Russia and in discussions with Russian authorities, declining to say whether there would be any repercussions.

"[We] have a strong law enforcement cooperative relationship with the Russians, and that relationship has resulted in the past in us returning criminals to Russia," he said. "And, you know, we are expecting the Russians to examine the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden for his return to the United States."

At the State Department media briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the United States "has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with a number of countries which Mr. Snowden might transit, or that could serve as final destinations," advising their governments that Snowden "is wanted on serious felony charges and, as such, he should not be allowed to proceed with any further international travel, other than as necessary to return to the United States."

He declined to list the governments, except noting there were "several" in Latin America.

Ventrell said Washington registered its "strong objections" through diplomatic channels to officials in Hong Kong and to the Chinese government for allowing Snowden to leave, "and we've noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations."

The Washington Post reported Snowden's passport had been revoked because he has felony arrest warrants issued against him, which Carney noted was consistent with U.S. regulations.

"Persons wanted on felony charges, such as Mr. Snowden, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel other than as necessary to return them to the United States," Carney said. "Now, because of the Privacy Act, and anyone can note the irony there, we cannot comment on Mr. Snowden's passport specifically. But I can say that the Hong Kong authorities were advised of the status of his travel documents in plenty of time to have prohibited travel as appropriate."

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