US President Barack Obama may not visit Moscow after all if Edward Snowden — the whistleblower wanted by the US government and seeking asylum in Russia — continues to get in the way, officials told The New York Times on Thursday.
Russian authorities have not confirmed whether or not they would grant Snowden political asylum, but the United States government has been pressing them to hand over the former contractor for the National Security Agency so he can be prosecuted.
Meanwhile, Obama's September trip to Russia is fast approaching.
White House spokesman Jay Carney was reluctant to discuss travel plans with reporters, limiting his comments to "I have no further announcements on our travel to Russia," and adding, "The president intends to go to Russia in September."
The original plan was for Obama to attend the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg and then visit Moscow, but it is unclear whether or not he would do so if Snowden was still living at Sheremetyevo Airport.
A cancelation by Obama would be seen as "a direct slap" to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who tends to "value such high-level visits as a validation of Russian prestige," noted the Times, suggesting that the White House may use the trip to win Russia's cooperation on Snowden.
Obama and Putin talked about Snowden on the phone last Friday.
While Putin has been anything but forthcoming on the subject, he did tell Russian reporters on Wednesday: “We warned Mr. Snowden that any action by him that could cause damage to Russian-American relations is unacceptable to us,” reported the Times.
The Obama administration is similarly side-stepping the issue, because it "reinforces without being belligerent that this is an irritant," as one US official told Reuters.