BERLIN, Germany — Edward Snowden will not testify before German officials while he remains in Russia, an opposition lawmaker said on Friday.
Speaking after the government offered Snowden to meet with German representatives in Moscow, Green Party legislator Hans-Christian Ströbele — who met with Snowden in Moscow this week — said the whistleblower is keen to testify before a proposed German parliamentary committee to investigate spying allegations surrounding the US National Security Agency (NSA) only if Germany can protect him from arrest.
“Snowden has considerable reservations [about testifying in Russia] that I neither can nor want to explain in more detail,” said Ströbele, the longest serving member of the parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence, told reporters at a news conference.
“He can imagine coming to testify in Germany. But for that he would need to be assured that he would be able to remain safely in Germany or a comparable country,” Ströbele said.
In stepping forward to broker such a deal, Ströbele may put additional pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a tough stance in negotiations regarding US surveillance programs — which have raised considerable controversy here because of the legacy of the Third Reich's Gestapo secret police and the East German Stasi.
“I hope Stroebele’s making a first step will enable an open and conclusive conversation about the spying of foreign intelligence services on German citizens,” said Daniel Domscheit-Berg, an internet security expert and former spokesman for Wikileaks.
Snowden's Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said earlier that his client could not leave Russia without violating the terms of his asylum.
“Snowden will not go to Germany,” the Voice of Russia reported Kucherena as saying. “This is not possible because he has no right to cross Russian borders.”
But he added that the whistleblower is free to testify to visiting German officials.
That essentially means Snowden can’t return to Russia if he leaves. However, he may be hoping to gain asylum in Germany instead by mounting pressure on Merkel to secure his testimony before the parliamentary committee.
Analysts are skeptical the government would grant him asylum.
"I don’t think asylum in Germany is the only expectation Snowden may have," said Klaus Segbers of Berlin's Free University. "But he’ll certainly insist on guarantees that in case he would travel to Germany to testify, he would be free to return to Moscow and not be handed over to the US authorities."
The German Foreign Ministry rejected Snowden’s asylum application in June on a technicality: requests can be made only on German soil.
Were Snowden to get here, he could join the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers whose cases languish for months and sometimes years before they are decided. However, if the Interior Ministry declares his presence to be in the country's national interest, he could be granted permanent residency.
During Friday's news conference, Ströbele revealed the contents of a brief letter he said was intended for Merkel, although it was addressed “To whom it may concern.”
Ströbele said he uploaded a copy of the letter to the internet.
It says Snowden hopes to participate in the “responsible finding of fact regarding reports in the media” and leaked documents.
It provides no new revelations regarding NSA surveillance or Snowden's current life in Russia. But it excoriates Washington for the “severe and sustained campaign of persecution” that forced the former NSA contractor into exile.
Ströbele and members of the German media spoke with the 30-year-old whistleblower for more than three hours on Thursday. German broadcaster ARD aired some of the footage.
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Ströbele said on Friday that the meeting had been planned for months.
"You all know that the entire world has been talking about Edward Snowden since June," he said. "Then I thought, why not talk to him personally?"
"I therefore have not had a holiday because I have been waiting with a packed bag," Ströbele said.
Segbers of Berlin's Free University said Americans would see Germany’s giving Snowden asylum as a serious breach of US interests. "Granting him free passage [to testify and return to Russia] may be less problematic, but not by much," he said.
"We already now find ourselves in the most serious crisis between Germany and the US since the second world war."
Here is a copy of Snowden's letter:
Snowden letter to Merkel by Daniel Bentley