Cut Diplomatic Ties? Hide Him In A Crate? How Might Assange Standoff End? : The Two-Way As the WikiLeaks founder remains holed up in Ecuador's London embassy, theories are emerging about how British police might get to him — and how he might be able to avoid arrest and get out of the country.
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Cut Diplomatic Ties? Hide Him In A Crate? How Might Assange Standoff End?

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Cut Diplomatic Ties? Hide Him In A Crate? How Might Assange Standoff End?

Cut Diplomatic Ties? Hide Him In A Crate? How Might Assange Standoff End?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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So Julian Assange has been granted asylum by Ecuador, but Britain says it will not grant him safe passage out of the country. How does this diplomatic impasse end? Retired British Ambassador Oliver Miles joins me to talk through some scenarios. Ambassador Miles, thanks for being with us.


BLOCK: You do hear this scenario put out there. Britain could cut off diplomatic relations, send the Ecuadorian ambassador home, close the embassy, and that would give them an avenue to arrest Julian Assange. Is there precedent for that?

MILES: Yes, there is. For example, if you take our breach relations with Libya in 1984, which I was involved in personally, I told the Libyans that they had to leave London within two weeks. Then, of course, they told us that we had to leave Tripoli, naturally. We waited until they had gone. And after they had gone, the British police went into the embassy premises and searched it. But they didn't go in until the diplomats had left.

BLOCK: Let's look at this from the Ecuadorian side. Say Ecuador were to get Assange into a diplomatic car to take him to the airport, does he have protection from arrest while he's in that car?

MILES: This is getting a bit technical, but my understanding is that if he could get into a diplomatic car - and that's a big if because I don't believe that the premises of the Ecuadorian Embassy would make that particularly easy - he might be arrested between the door of the embassy and the door of the car. But if that didn't happen and they got him into the car, my understanding is that the police would be able to stop the car, but not to search it.

BLOCK: And then there would still be the issue of getting him from the car onto an airplane.

MILES: And there seems no way they could do that.

BLOCK: You do hear this, and it does sound far-fetched, but there have been cases before where people were put into diplomatic crates - actually put in against their will, and they were discovered. But would that be a possibility here? Could the Ecuadorians put Julian Assange into a diplomatic crate and ship him out of Britain?

MILES: Yes. I suppose that possibility exists theoretically. But you have to remember that diplomatic bags, as they're called, are immune from inspection. Nevertheless, you can look at them and you can see what they are, and I think it will be difficult to design a diplomatic bag in which Julian Assange could be hidden.

BLOCK: But if Assange were in the diplomatic crate, say, does that have protection? I mean, is that open to search?

MILES: It's not open to search, no, but it's open to delay.

BLOCK: Oh, they could hold it.

MILES: Of course they could.

BLOCK: Well, that would present all kinds of problems, wouldn't it, for Mr. Assange?


MILES: Yes. Well, that's not the worst of it. I mean, another option, which I've been thinking about, is what you might call the Mindszenty option. Are you familiar with that?

BLOCK: I'm not, no.

MILES: Cardinal Mindszenty, who was the head of the Hungarian Church when the Russians invaded Hungary in 1956, he took refuge in the American Embassy, and he reigned there for 15 years. So I don't know whether Julian Assange would like to stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy for 15 years or whether the embassy would like to give him hospitality for 15 years. But it strikes me that from the British point of view, that's a perfectly satisfactory situation.

BLOCK: When you think about this impasse, Ambassador Miles, what do you think is the most plausible scenario for what will happen?

MILES: I think the reality is that the Ecuadorians are in a hopeless position. The British government will be able to carry out what they say they have to carry out under British law - namely to extradite him to Sweden. The British will simply say, OK, we want him, and if you don't give him to us today, you can give him to us tomorrow. And they'll keep on upping the ante, and they may, in the end, resort to declaring the ambassador persona non grata and closing the embassy, which they're perfectly entitled to do. I think one way or another, he'll be handed over.

BLOCK: That's former British ambassador to Libya, Luxembourg and Greece, Oliver Miles. He spoke with us from Oxford, England. Ambassador Miles, thanks so much.

MILES: Thank you.

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