US denies pressuring UK in Assange case

The United States said Thursday it was not involved in the international row over WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, denying charges it was pressuring Britain to seize him.

US denies pressuring UK in Assange case

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined comment on Ecuador’s offer of asylum to Assange but rejected assertions by WikiLeaks and Quito that the Internet activist needed protection against the United States.

“With regard to the charge that the US was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely,” Nuland told reporters.

Asked whether the United States was pressuring Britain to seize Assange, who has been holed up for two months in Ecuador’s embassy in London, Nuland said she had “no information to indicate that there is any truth to that at all.”

“It is an issue among the countries involved and we are not planning to

interject ourselves,” Nuland told reporters.

Nuland did not comment on whether the United States was interested in general in prosecuting Assange, saying: “I am not going to get into all of the legal ins and outs about what may or may not have been in his future before he chose to take refuge in the Ecuadorian mission.”

The Organization of American States, which met in emergency session, said it would decide Friday whether to call a meeting of its foreign ministers. Britain has observer status in the OAS.

The Australian government maintained its stance that the asylum decision was a matter for the WikiLeaks founder and the governments of Britain and Ecuador, reported AAP.

“Australia’s role remains unchanged. Mr Assange remains in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and we have and will continue to make regular contact with embassy staff to check on his welfare and offer him consular assistance,” a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the news agency.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton kept her distance Thursday from the furore in London and Stockholm over Ecuador’s decision to grant Julian Assange asylum.

“This is essentially a bilateral issue between the UK and Ecuador,” a spokesperson for Ashton, the English baroness who heads the European Union’s diplomatic service, told AFP.

The Ashton official said that “the EU delegation in Quito is following this case closely, in contact with the UK embassy.”

The spokesperson added: “We trust that the issue will be resolved through

dialogue and in full accordance with applicable international law.”

Mina Andreeva, spokeswoman for EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, said the EU arrest warrant “applies when one EU country requests the surrender of an EU citizen to another EU country.

“It would only apply if the UK arrests Assange and then decided to extradite him – or not.”

“It cannot apply while he is in the embassy of Ecuador,” she underlined.

Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning about allegations of rape and sexual assault, and a British court had already ruled that Assange could be extradited.

Angering the United States by releasing a trove of classified US documents on his whistleblowing website, Assange been holed up in the Ecuador’s embassy in London since June 19.

Ecuador said Thursday that it was offering asylum to Assange because London, Stockholm and Washington refused to guarantee that Assange would not be sent on to the United States.

Ecuador has called a meeting of foreign ministers from the South American regional bloc UNASUR on Sunday.

“Nobody is going to scare us,” Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said on

his Twitter account, minutes before the decision was announced.

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Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer

Julian Assange would cooperate with Swedish authorities if they reopen a rape case against him but will continue to resist any bid to extradite him to the United States, his lawyer said Sunday.

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer
Julian Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson in London on Thursday. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham/TT

“We are absolutely happy to answer those queries if and when they come up,” Jennifer Robinson told Sky News television about the rape claims.

“The key issue at the moment is US extradition, which we have warned about for many years,” she added.

The WikiLeaks founder is in custody in London awaiting sentencing for breaching his British bail conditions in 2012 by seeking refuge in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was arrested at the embassy on Thursday after Ecuador gave him up, and is now also fighting a US extradition warrant relating to the release by WikiLeaks of a huge cache of official documents.

The Australian has always denied the claims of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. The first expired in 2015 and the other was dropped in 2017, but the alleged rape victim has now asked for the case to be reopened.

If Stockholm makes a formal extradition request, the British government will have to decide whether to consider it before or after that of the United States.

Robinson said Assange would seek assurances from Sweden that he would not be sent on to America, saying: “That is the same assurance we were seeking in 2010 and the refusal to give that is why he sought asylum.”

She added: “He's not above the law. Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice or indeed Swedish justice. This case is and has always been about his concern about being sent to face American injustice.”

The US indictment charges Assange with “conspiracy” for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on Department of Defence computers in March 2010.

He faces up to five years in jail.

Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries around the world.

The conspiracy charge against Assange seems intended to sidestep limits on prosecution potentially arising from the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of press freedom.

But Robinson insisted: “This indictment clearly engages newsgathering activities and the kinds of communications that journalists have with sources all the time.”

The lawyer condemned as “outrageous” claims made by Ecuador about Assange's behaviour in the embassy, including that he smeared his faeces on the wall, saying: “That's not true.”

Quito also accused him of failing to care for his cat. WikiLeaks said Assange had asked his lawyers to “rescue him (the cat) from embassy threats” in October, adding: “They will be reunited in freedom.”

Assange's father, John Shipton, on Sunday urged Australia to bring his son home.