The Herald Bulletin

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June 27, 2013

Ecuador heats rhetoric as Obama downplays Snowden

QUITO, Ecuador — President Barack Obama tried to cool the international frenzy over Edward Snowden on Thursday as Ecuador stepped up its defiance and said it was preemptively rejecting millions in trade benefits that it could lose by taking in the fugitive from his limbo in a Moscow airport.

The country seen as likeliest to shelter the National Security Agency leaker seemed determined to prove it could handle any repercussions, with three of its highest officials calling an early-morning news conference to "unilaterally and irrevocably renounce" $23 million a year in lowered tariffs on products such as roses, shrimp and frozen vegetables.

Fernando Alvarado, the secretary of communications for leftist President Rafael Correa, sarcastically suggested the U.S. use the money to train government employees to respect human rights.

Obama, meanwhile, sought to downplay the international chase for the man he called "a 29-year-old hacker" and lower the temperature of an issue that has raised tensions between the U.S. and uneasy partners Russia and China. Obama said in Senegal that the damage to U.S. national security has already been done and his top focus now is making sure it can't happen again.

"I'm not going to have one case with a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly be elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so he can face the justice system," Obama said at a joint news conference with Senegal's President Macky Sall.

While the Ecuadorean government appeared angry over U.S. threats of punishment if it accepts Snowden, there were also mixed signals about how eager it was to grant asylum. For days, officials here have been blasting the U.S. and praising Snowden's leaks of NSA eavesdropping secrets as a blow for global human rights.

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