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Snowden's fate unclear despite asylum offers from Venezuela and Nicaragua

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 12:40 a.m. MDT

his photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong. The Guardian identified Snowden as a source for its reports on intelligence programs.
 (AP Photo/The Guardian) his photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong. The Guardian identified Snowden as a source for its reports on intelligence programs. (AP Photo/The Guardian)

MOSCOW — Edward Snowden has found supporters in Latin America, including Venezuela and Nicaragua, who have offered him asylum. But many obstacles stand in the way of the fugitive NSA leaker from leaving a Russian airport — chief among them the power and influence of the United States.

Because Snowden's U.S. passport has been revoked, the logistics of him departing are complicated. Despite making the asylum offer Friday, Venezuela and Nicaragua haven't indicated they would help Snowden by issuing a travel document, which he would need to leave Russia.

The former NSA systems analyst, who is charged with violating U.S. espionage laws, is believed to be stuck in the transit area of Moscow's main international airport after arriving June 23 from Hong Kong.

Russia doesn't appear willing to help him leave the airport, with Kremlin spokesman Alexei Pavlov saying Saturday the issue of Snowden's travel documents is "not our business." On Monday, President Vladimir Putin said Snowden would be offered asylum in Russia if he stopped leaking U.S. secrets. Snowden then withdrew his Russian asylum bid, a Russian official said.

Venezuela's Defense Minister Admiral Diego Molero, far left, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, second from left, and Chief of Strategic Command Gen. Wilmer Barrientos, center, attend a military promotion ceremony at the 4F military museum in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, July 5, 2013.  On Friday Venezuela marks its 202 independence anniversary from Spain.  (Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press) Venezuela's Defense Minister Admiral Diego Molero, far left, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, second from left, and Chief of Strategic Command Gen. Wilmer Barrientos, center, attend a military promotion ceremony at the 4F military museum in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, July 5, 2013. On Friday Venezuela marks its 202 independence anniversary from Spain. (Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press)

While President Barack Obama has publicly displayed a relaxed attitude toward Snowden's movements, saying last month that he wouldn't be "scrambling jets" to capture him, other senior U.S. officials have used unusually harsh language that they want him back.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said China had "unquestionably" damaged its relationship with Washington for not returning Snowden, who recently turned 30, from semi-autonomous Hong Kong while he was still there.

"The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust," Carney said last month. "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."

China may be reluctant to further complicate its relationship with the U.S. by allowing Snowden back in Hong Kong, even if only as a transfer point to Latin America.

Snowden has asked for asylum in more than 20 countries and many have turned him down. WikiLeaks, which has been helping Snowden, said Friday he had submitted asylum applications to six new countries, which the secret-spilling website declined to identify "due to attempted U.S. interference."

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega speaks during a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the withdrawal to Masaya, a tactical move by the Sandinistas that was critical in the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza's dictatorship in 1979, in Managua, Nicaragua, Friday, July 5, 2013. The presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela offered Friday to grant asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, one day after leftist South American leaders gathered to denounce the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane over Europe amid reports that the American was aboard.  (Lucia Silva, Associated Press) Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega speaks during a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the withdrawal to Masaya, a tactical move by the Sandinistas that was critical in the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza's dictatorship in 1979, in Managua, Nicaragua, Friday, July 5, 2013. The presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela offered Friday to grant asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, one day after leftist South American leaders gathered to denounce the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane over Europe amid reports that the American was aboard. (Lucia Silva, Associated Press)

The asylum offers from Venezuela and Nicaragua came one day after leftist South American leaders gathered to denounce the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane over Europe amid reports that the fugitive American was aboard.

Spain says it had been warned along with other European countries that Snowden was aboard the Bolivian presidential plane, an acknowledgement the manhunt for the fugitive leaker had something to do with the plane's unexpected diversion to Austria. It is unclear whether Washington warned Madrid about the Bolivian president's plane.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the grounding of the plane. They said they won't give details about their conversations with European countries, except to say that they have stated Washington's general position that it wants Snowden back.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a military promotion ceremony at the 4F military museum in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, July 5, 2013.  Venezuela marks on Friday the 202 anniversary of independence from Spain.  (Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press) Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a military promotion ceremony at the 4F military museum in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, July 5, 2013. Venezuela marks on Friday the 202 anniversary of independence from Spain. (Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press)

Snowden, who on Saturday afternoon wasn't on an Interpol list of people for whom international arrest warrants have been issued, had booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight on June 24, but never made it.

Direct Havana flights, operated by Aeroflot from Moscow's main airport five times a week, are the easiest option of reaching Latin America from Moscow. But the Moscow-Havana's travel path passes over mainland U.S., raising the chances of it being grounded. There are other routes, but there is no assurance he'd have free passage.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company