Decision on Edward Snowden asylum could take months, Ecuador says

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Ecuador's foreign minister said Wednesday that his government could take months to decide whether to grant asylum to U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino compared Snowden's case to that of WikiLeaks website founder Julian Assange, who has been given asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

“It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time,” Patino told a news conference during a visit to Malaysia's main city, Kuala Lumpur.

Asked if Ecuador would provide protection to Snowden while considering his request for asylum, Patino said through a translator that if Snowden “goes to the embassy, then we will make a decision.”

Patino refused to say what criteria Ecuador would use to decide, but added that his government would “consider all these risks,” including concerns that it would hurt trade with the United States and his country's economy.

Snowden, who is charged with violating American espionage laws, fled Hong Kong over the weekend and flew to Russia. He booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he didn't board the plane.

Russia acknowledged his arrival only on Tuesday, when President Vladimir Putin said Snowden was still in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that he remained there on Wednesday.

“He hasn't violated any of our laws, he hasn't crossed our border, he is in the transit zone of the airport and has the right to fly in any direction he wants,” the state news agency ITAR-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying.

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