Russia, U.S. At Odds Over Fate Of Edward Snowden

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the man who leaked secret U.S. documents about government surveillance programs is still in a Moscow airport transit lounge and is free to go wherever he wants. Putin is dismissing calls by the U.S. to send Edward Snowden home to face felony charges, saying Moscow had nothing to do with Snowden's travel plans. He also said Russia views Snowden as a human rights activist. Secretary of State John Kerry says he doesn't think there should be a confrontation with Russia over Snowden and says he's asking, not ordering, Russia to treat Snowden as a fugitive.

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Russia and the U.S. are at odds over the fate of Edward Snowden, the man who leaked secret U.S. documents about government surveillance programs. Snowden is said to be in Moscow. And the Obama administration wants Russia to send him home to face justice. But Russian authorities say they have nothing to do with Snowden, that he is a free man in the international transit zone of a Moscow airport. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this story about a case that is once again souring U.S.-Russian relations.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State John Kerry says he isn't looking for a fight with Moscow over the Snowden case.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: We don't need to raise the level of confrontation over something as, frankly, basic and normal as this.

KELEMEN: The U.S. and Russia don't have an extradition treaty, but Kerry told reporters during a stop in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. is making a simple request for Moscow to send Snowden back to the U.S. where he's facing felony charges.

KERRY: And we would hope that as a nation, as a sovereign nation, Russia would not see its interests in siding with a person and who is accused of breaking the law in another nation and who is a fugitive from justice according to international standards of law.

KELEMEN: The trouble is Russia doesn't see the Snowden case that way. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Snowden a human rights activist and compared him to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who helped Snowden leave Hong Kong over the weekend and helped him apply for refugee status in Ecuador. Should these people sit in jail, Putin asked rhetorically at a news conference in Finland?

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

KELEMEN: I personally don't want anything to do with this question, he says, because it's like shearing a pig: a lot of shrieking but not much fur. Putin says Russia was taken by surprise when Snowden arrived at the airport in Moscow, and he dismissed as rubbish allegations that Russian officials were involved.

PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

KELEMEN: He's a transit passenger, so he's still in the transit hall, Putin says, insisting that Russian security services have not worked with Snowden. Putin says the former U.S. intelligence contractor can go wherever he'd like and the sooner the better for him and for Russia.

State Department officials are not giving up yet, though, saying they're still in talks with Russia over Snowden's case, hoping to persuade the Russians to cooperate. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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