WASHINGTON -- The White House on Friday questioned the Russian government’s neutrality in the case of Edward Snowden, as the former National Security Agency contractor met with human rights activists at the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for weeks.
The provision of a “propaganda platform” for Snowden “runs counter to the Russian government's previous declarations of Russia's neutrality" and to officials' assertions "that they have no control over his presence in the airport,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his regular afternoon briefing.
“It's also incompatible with Russian assurances that they do not want Mr. Snowden to further damage U.S. interests,” Carney said.
U.S. officials have been pressing for extradition of the former systems analyst, who last month revealed that he was the source of leaks to journalists that revealed the extent to which the U.S. tracks communications around the globe.
President Obama was expected to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, a phone call administration officials said was already on his calendar before Snowden met with the group in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport.
Human Rights Watch released a picture of Snowden at the meeting, the first image of him since he arrived in Russia on June 23.
A lawmaker who met with him Friday said Snowden was seeking asylum in Russia and was willing to stop sharing secrets in exchange for permission to stay. Putin previously said Snowden could gain asylum in Russia if he agreed to release no more information damaging to the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has reiterated to Russia and several other countries that Snowden should be returned to the U.S. to face the felony charges against him, Obama administration officials said.
Carney said Snowden was not a dissident or a human rights activists. The U.S. doesn’t want the Snowden case “to do harm to our important relationship with Russia,” he said.