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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden on Monday to decide if he wants to fly to Caracas after the fugitive sent an asylum request aimed at escaping US justice.
"We have received the asylum request letter," Maduro told reporters from the presidential palace. "He will have to decide when he flies, if he finally wants to fly here."
Over the weekend, the leftist leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia all offered asylum to Snowden, who has spent more than two weeks stranded at Moscow's international airport while waiting for a country to give him sanctuary.
"We told this young man, 'you are being persecuted by the empire, come here,'" Maduro said Monday, referring to the United States. He called the offers from the three Latin American nations "collective humanitarian political asylum."
But Maduro said there had been no contact with Snowden, who has been out of sight since arriving in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23. "No, not yet, but I'd like to" talk to Snowden, he said.
Snowden has applied for asylum in 27 countries but the 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor has only gotten a sympathetic ear from some leftist Latin American leaders. Several European nations rejected his bid.
The Nicaraguan embassy in Moscow on Monday confirmed it had received Snowden's asylum application, but stressed it had not yet made any contact with the American. President Daniel Ortega stressed Friday he was willing to welcome Snowden "if circumstances permit it."
Flying out of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport could be problematic, however, as the US government revoked Snowden's passport, leaving him without a travel document.
Cuba, a key transit point from Russia on the way to Latin America, backed this weekend the asylum offers made by Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, though President Raul Castro did no indicate whether his country would itself offer refuge to Snowden.
The only flight for which Snowden was known to have been checked-in -- a 12-hour Aeroflot flight to Havana -- left on June 24 without the fugitive on board.
Even if he boards a plane, his trip could face obstacles: Even Bolivia's President Evo Morales was forced to divert his jet last week when some European nations denied him their airspace amid suspicions that Snowden was on board.
Morales charged that the United States had put pressure on Europeans.
Snowden's flight from justice, which began when he left Hawaii for Hong Kong and then Moscow, has caused diplomatic headaches between the United States and several nations including Russia, China and Brazil.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned earlier that "any country where he may be moving in transit, where he could end up and certainly any country that were to grant asylum, that could have an impact, of course, on our bilateral relationship."
While Maduro has picked up on the anti-US rhetoric of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, his administration had spoken favorably of rapprochement with Washington.
The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.
The United States is the main customer of Venezuela's vital oil industry, importing 900,000 barrels of crude per day, and analysts warn that taking Snowden in could prove economically harmful.
Snowden's revelations meanwhile continued to cause waves, with Brazil saying Monday that it will investigate reports of US electronic spying on its citizens.