Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seeking temporary asylum in Russia until he can travel to Latin America -- and the Kremlin is indicating it might let him stay in the country if he stops leaking details about clandestine American surveillance programs.
The 30-year-old Snowden met Friday with human rights activists and Russian lawyers at a Moscow airport. Later, the secret-disclosing group WikiLeaks posted a statement from Snowden saying he wanted to stay in Russia until he could safely go to Latin America.
Three leftist governments there -- Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua -- have offered him asylum. But Snowden has been blocked from traveling anywhere because American officials have revoked his passport and want him extradited to the United States to stand trial on espionage charges.
In Washington, after Snowden announced his asylum bid, the White House said there still is "absolutely justification" for Russia to expel Snowden to the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused the U.S. request while urging Snowden to leave for another country. President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak with Mr. Putin later Friday by telephone.
Snowden -- encamped in a transit area at Sheremetyevo airport for nearly three weeks -- had previously expressed interest in seeking asylum in Russia. But he withdrew the bid after Mr. Putin said the request would only be considered if Snowden agreed to stop leaking details about the U.S. surveillance programs being conducted by the National Security Agency.
As details of his airport meeting became public, the Kremlin reiterated that Snowden could stay in Russia if he stopped the disclosures.
Snowden called the meeting at the airport to talk about what he says is "threatening behavior" by the United States to keep him from gaining asylum. Several human rights activists attended, including representatives of the Russian offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, attorneys and a Russian lawmaker.
Snowden has not been seen publicly since he arrived at Sheremetyevo June 23 after a flight from Hong Kong. In a picture released from the meeting, Snowden looked well, and much like he did during his stay in Hong Kong.
One of the activists at the airport meeting, Tatiana Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, quoted Snowden as saying that he did not have any problem with restrictions on his activities if he can stay in Russia because he does not feel he has damaged the U.S., a contention pointedly rejected by Washington.
"In fact he said that he would immediately ask for an asylum here in Russia. He would file his official claim right away, and he wanted the organizations present to intervene with President Putin in support of his asylum claim. He also said that he did not find Putin's remark as regards to the possibility of his getting asylum in Russia problematic because, as he says, he did not do any harm to the United States and he was not planning to do any damage. So yes, he wants to stay here officially, but he perceives it as a temporary state because eventually he would want to move to Latin America.''
Earlier this week, Snowden explained his disclosure of clandestine American surveillance programs in a newly released segment of a video recorded last month. Britain's Guardian newspaper released the video Tuesday of a June 6 interview conducted in Hong Kong.
Snowden said in the video that he knew the United States would accuse him of espionage in alerting the country's enemies of the surveillance. But he said the United States is also at fault for monitoring the phone records of its citizens and keeping track of Internet connections with possible terrorists.