(AP) By JIM HEINTZ – The WikiLeaks secret-spilling site on Tuesday said NSA leaker Edward Snowden has not yet formally accepted asylum in Venezuela, trying to put to rest growing confusion over whether he had taken up the country’s offer.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has offered asylum to Snowden and says his country received a request from the former NSA systems analyst.
But Snowden, who is believed to be in a Moscow airport’s transit zone, has applied for asylum in a number of other countries as well, and it is not clear how easy it would be for him to travel to the Latin American country.
On Tuesday, a prominent Russian lawmaker tweeted that Snowden had accepted Venezuela’s offer, then deleted the posting a few minutes later.
It was not possible to immediately reach Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee who has acted as an unofficial point man for the Kremlin on the Snowden affair.
But soon after the posting on his Twitter account disappeared, he sent another message saying his claim was based on a report from the state all-news television channel Rossiya 24, also known as Vesti.
The channel said Pushkov misunderstood its report on Maduro’s comments Monday night during a meeting with Panama’s president, which the anchorwoman introduced by saying “Venezuela has finally received an answer” from Snowden.
She then clarified that Maduro said Venezuela had received Snowden’s official request and showed a clip of him saying in Russian voiceover that Snowden “should decide when to fly to Caracas, if he indeed has decided to come here.”
WikiLeaks, which has been advising Snowden, said Tuesday on Twitter that Snowden had not formally accepted the Venezuelan offer, and that any decision on asylum would be announced by the “states concerned” and “then be confirmed by us.”
Pushkov, however, followed up with a third tweet that essentially repeated his initial claim: “As Vesti 24 reported citing Maduro, Snowden accepted his offer of asylum. If this is so, then he considered this the safest option.”
Pushkov had posted messages over the weekend encouraging Snowden to accept Venezuela’s offer, signaling that the Kremlin was now anxious to be rid of him.
The Kremlin declined comment on Tuesday’s developments.
Snowden, who revealed details of a U.S. intelligence program to monitor Internet activity, came to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on June 23 and was believed to be headed for Cuba. But he did not board that flight and has not been seen publicly since.
In his comments, Maduro did not say what process Venezuelan officials might use to follow up on Snowden’s request.
For Snowden to leave for Venezuela, he would need the country to issue him travel documents and find a way to get there. The only direct commercial flight from Moscow stops in Havana, Cuba.
The Moscow-Havana flight goes over Europe and the U.S., which could cause complications. Some European countries refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to fly through their airspace on his way home from Moscow last week because of suspicions that Snowden was on his plane.
The presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua have also said that Snowden was welcome in their countries.
Maduro said Monday it is perhaps the world’s “first collective humanitarian asylum” with various countries saying “Come here!”
AP writers Lynn Berry in Moscow and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.