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UK, Ecuador seek solution to deadlock over Assange

Saturday, August 18, 2012 | 2:23 PM    

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LONDON, UK (AP) — Britain is seeking an amicable solution with Ecuador to their diplomatic standoff over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a UK official insisted today, as the secret-spiller prepared to make his first public statement since the Latin American nation confirmed it would offer him asylum.

 Assange, who took shelter in the Ecuadorian Embassy on June 19 after he exhausted all routes of appeal in the UK to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sexual misconduct allegations, is scheduled to make a public statement tomorrow.

London diplomats have spoken with Ecuadorian Ambassador Ana Alban since the South American country granted Assange asylum on Thursday, a move which threatens to further complicate Sweden's two-year long attempt to have the activist extradited from Britain.

British officials in Ecuador's capital, Quito, have also contacted the country's foreign ministry to discuss a resumption of talks over the case, and to quell anger prompted when Britain appeared to suggest it could invoke a little-known law to strip Ecuador's embassy of diplomatic privileges — meaning police would be free to move in and detain Assange.

But there was little sign of a friendlier atmosphere from Quito, however, where Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said on his weekly broadcast that Britain's "direct threat" about possibly entering the embassy had come "in a totally offensive, inconsiderate, intolerable manner."

He said Ecuador "never wanted to impede the investigation of a supposed crime. What we wanted to impede is the extradition to a third country."

Correa complained again that Britain and Sweden had declined to give assurances against such an extradition.

British diplomats have repeated assurances that the government was simply setting out the country's legal options, not making a specific threat to storm the nation's mission — a small apartment in London's ritzy Knightsbridge district, close to the famed Harrods department store.

"We are continuing to seek a diplomatic solution," a British government official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment publicly on the talks with Ecuador. "We remain ready to continue the conversations we have had, but that is now a question for the Ecuadorians."

Britain had held seven rounds of formal talks with Ecuador over the stalemate before Thursday's decision. But Foreign Secretary William Hague insists Britain has no option but to meet the obligations of a European arrest warrant and send Assange to Stockholm.

Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who is representing Assange, said Ecuador may consider making an appeal to the International Court of Justice in the Hague in order to compel Britain to grant Assange safe passage out of the country.

Assange, an Australian, shot to international prominence in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets — including 250,000 US embassy cables that highlight the sensitive, candid and often embarrassing backroom dealings of US diplomats.

As he toured the globe to highlight the disclosures, two women accused him of sex offenses during a trip to Sweden.

Assange and his supporters claim the Swedish case is merely the opening gambit in a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the US over his work with WikiLeaks — something disputed by both Swedish authorities and the women involved.

Diplomatic cables obtained under freedom of information laws and published today by Australia's The Age newspaper showed Australian diplomats have held discussions on Assange's fate with the US.

A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might link Assange to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the US soldier who has been charged with aiding the enemy by passing the secret files to WikiLeaks and is awaiting trial. No action against Assange has yet been taken.

A document written in February detailed how Australia's ambassador to the US, Kim Beazley, had asked officials in Washington for advice on "the direction and likely outcome of the investigation" and requested "early advice of any decision to indict or seek extradition of Mr Assange."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters travelling on Air Force One with President Barack Obama to campaign stops in New Hampshire on today that "at this point the United States views this as a matter to be resolved between the British government, the Ecuadorean government and the Swedish government."

"At this point we've not intervened in this matter and I don't have any guidance now as to whether this would be a matter we intervene in," Earnest said.

WikiLeaks declined to comment in more detail on Assange's planned statement tomorrow, however the organization has said Assange plans to speak outside the embassy — which if correct, could expose him to arrest.

If the 41-year-old steps foot outside Ecuador's mission, he faces immediate detention by the dozens of British police who surround the building and are stationed inside a shared lobby.

While Assange stays inside, he is seemingly out of reach of British authorities, prompting speculation that he may address the public from a window or the embassy's small balcony.

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