Russia says its security agency is talking with its U.S. counterpart about American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, but vowed that it would not expel him to the United States to face espionage charges.
Russia's presidential spokesman said Friday that officials from Moscow's FSB agency are in discussions with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, but gave no other details, other than to say that Snowden would not be handed over to American authorities.
The 30-year-old Snowden has been encamped for a month in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, while searching for a country that would grant him asylum so he could avoid returning to the U.S. to stand trial on the pending espionage charges. But his quick path out of the country was blocked after the U.S. revoked his passport.
The former U.S. intelligence contractor has asked Russia for temporary asylum but says he eventually wants to head to Latin America. The leftist governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered him asylum.
Numerous news agencies in Russia reported Wednesday that Snowden was about to be handed documents that would have allowed him to leave the airport transit zone and formally enter Russia. But Snowden's Russian lawyer said that consideration of his case was taking longer than expected and that the fugitive would continue to live at the airport.
Snowden last month leaked secret details of telephone and Internet surveillance programs being conducted by the U.S.'s clandestine National Security Agency. The NSA says it is collecting the data to thwart terrorist attacks.
Snowden's disclosures have sparked a debate in Congress over the extent of the surveillance. But the House of Representatives this week narrowly defeated an attempt to curtail it, with supporters of the spying arguing that the data collection is necessary to protect the country.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.