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Russia Faces Diplomatic Fallout From U.S. Over Snowden


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We begin this hour with the diplomatic fallout over the Edward Snowden case. He's the former intelligence contractor who leaked details of a U.S. surveillance program. Snowden spent more than a month in a transit zone at a Moscow airport, and has now been given temporary asylum in Russia. The Obama administration is not pleased.

NPR's Michele Kelemen begins our coverage.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Though the U.S. and Russia have no extradition treaty between them, the Obama administration had been pressing Moscow for weeks to send Edward Snowden back to the U.S.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says Snowden is not a dissident or a whistleblower, but someone who should be tried for leaking secrets about U.S. government surveillance programs.


KELEMEN: He says Russia gave no advance warning of its move. Asked whether President Obama will now call off a planned September meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Carney says the White House is, quote, "evaluating the utility of a summit."

There are plenty of other reasons not to meet Putin, argues David Kramer, president of Freedom House.

DAVID KRAMER: And it's everything else that's happening in Russia, which is an unprecedented crackdown on human rights and civil society and Russian opposition, the anti-gay campaign that Putin has launched. It is a long list of reasons why Barack Obama should not be going to Moscow, in my view, for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. Snowden is simply the icing on the cake.

KELEMEN: And putting off the summit is not the only thing Kramer thinks the White House should do.

KRAMER: Beyond that, Obama should indicate he has no plans to attend the Sochi Olympics next February. The athletes should participate, in my view, but Western leaders, including the American president, should not be sharing a platform with Putin during his moment of glory.

KELEMEN: Another Russia-watcher, Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says he wouldn't rush to respond just yet. The U.S. has plenty of other things to talk about with Putin, whether it's arms control or Iran.

ANDREW KUCHINS: You know, Putin is going to be going in a couple of weeks to meet the new Iranian leader, basically to check him out and size him up. If I'm Obama, you know, I'd want a face-to-face meeting with Putin to talk about that.

KELEMEN: As for Snowden, Kuchins says it would have been worse if the former NSA contractor had been allowed to flee to yet another country, which could have gained access to the secret computer files he reportedly has with him. At least now, Kuchins says, Snowden is out of an airport transit area.

KUCHINS: U.S. authorities have not been able to make direct contact with Snowden while he's in the transit zone. So while he's out of the transit zone, at least that is possible, and so, you know, Snowden can get a clearer idea as to what precisely, you know, would await him if he were to decide to return to the United States.

KELEMEN: Snowden and his supporters have said they don't believe he would face a fair trial in the U.S., at a time when they see the Obama administration cracking down on whistleblowers.

But if that's the case, Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution says Russia is a strange choice for asylum.

STEVEN PIFER: If your point is to send a message about protection of Internet privacy, if you're out there to make a point for human rights, it's kind of odd that you end up in Russia.

KELEMEN: Pifer had been hoping that Moscow would let Snowden go to another country, so that his case wouldn't be a distraction in U.S.-Russian ties. But now many members of Congress are furious with Moscow, and Pifer says the political costs of a summit are rising.

PIFER: The president will get beaten up for going to Moscow and seeing Putin. The question they then have to ask is: Does that meeting then produce something that would be of value to the president to justify those political costs?

KELEMEN: The former ambassador says the U.S. wants to work with Russia on further nuclear arms reductions and economic relations. Those are issues expected to be on the agenda next week if talks go ahead as planned with Secretaries of State and Defense John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and their Russian counterparts.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.