MOSCOW — National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wants asylum in Russia and is willing to stop sharing information as a trade-off for such a deal, according to a parliament member who was among a dozen activists and officials to meet with him Friday.
Snowden appeared nervous, but in apparently good health during the meeting behind closed doors in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport where he’s been marooned for weeks, Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters.
A photo attributed to a Human Rights Watch representative who attended the meeting was posted on the Guardian and other websites, the first image to appear of Snowden since the newspaper broke the story of widespread U.S. Internet surveillance based on his leaks.
Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told Russian news agencies after the announcement Friday that Russia has not yet received a new bid for asylum from Snowden and that Putin would continue with his insistence that Snowden stop leaking information.
Both Nikonov and Genri Reznik, a lawyer who participated in the meeting, said Snowden was willing to stop leaks. “He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the United States’ interests given that he is a patriot of his country,” Nikonov said.
Snowden is believed to have been stuck in the transit zone since June 23, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong, where he had gone before his revelations were made public. He had been expected to transfer in Moscow to a Cuba-bound flight, but did not get on the plane and had not been seen in public since then.
Snowden made an initial bid for Russian asylum, but Putin said he would have to agree to stop leaking before asylum would be considered. Snowden then withdrew his bid. Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua recently have offered him asylum, but it is unclear if he could fly to any of those countries from Moscow without passing through airspace of the United States or its allies.
The activists at the meeting included Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International’s Russia office, and Tatiana Lokshina, deputy head of the Russian office of Human Rights Watch. Also taken into the meeting room was Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin.
They came after an email in Snowden’s name was sent on Thursday. On Facebook, Lokshina posted the text of the email, which says in part that Snowden wants to make “a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation.”
Hundreds of journalists flocked to the airport, but were kept in a hallway outside the meeting area which was behind a gray door marked “staff only.” It was not clear if Snowden would have to come out that door or if he could exit by another route.
The text of the invitation did not directly address the offers of asylum, though it expressed gratitude for asylum offers and says “I hope to travel to each of them.” It accuses the United States of “an unlawful campaign … to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum.”
Russia has said it cannot extradite him because by remaining in the transit zone he is technically outside Russian territory.