WASHINGTON: The United States is "extremely disappointed" in Russia's decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, the White House said Thursday.
In its first public response to Russia's move to defy U.S. wishes, the Obama administration said it was not a positive development for U.S.-Russia relations and said that it undermined Russia's record of law enforcement cooperation with the U.S. The White House added that a planned fall summit between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin is being re-evaluated here.
"We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and private that Mr. Snowden be expelled and returned to the United States," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Carney said that Moscow had given the U.S. no advance notice before announcing its decision to grant Snowden asylum for one year. But he added that the U.S. has a wide-ranging relationship with Russia, suggesting the U.S. was reluctant to allow relations to deteriorate too substantially over the American fugitive's status.
Snowden left the transit zone of a Moscow airport and officially entered Russia after authorities granted him asylum, his lawyer said. The U.S. demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution for espionage over his leaks that revealed wide U.S. electronic surveillance programs, but Putin dismissed the request.
The move by Moscow Thursday could further strain U.S.-Russian relations that have already been tested because of differences over Syria, American criticism of Russia's human rights record and other disputes. Putin has said that his decision on asylum was contingent on Snowden not hurting U.S. interests.
Carney wouldn't say whether Snowden is in possession of further information about spying practices that could damage the U.S. if released, but said the fact that Snowden removed classified information from secure environments, bringing documents with him to Hong Kong and then to Moscow's airport, posed a risk in and of itself.
"Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower" or a dissident," Carney said. "He is accused of leaking classified information.He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible."