"This is the decision of Russian authorities. He doesn't have a passport. I don't know the Russian laws, I don't know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can't," Correa said. "At this moment he's under the care of the Russian authorities. If he arrives at an Ecuadorean Embassy we'll analyze his request for asylum."
The U.S. is seeking the former NSA contractor's extradition for leaking secret documents that, among other things, detail U.S. surveillance of international online activity. On Sunday, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that classified documents taken by Snowden also revealed U.S. spies had allegedly bugged European Union offices.
Correa's Sunday statement appears to contradict Russia's repeated statements that Snowden is not on Russian territory because he has not left the airport transit area, and he is free to depart whenever he likes. Russian authorities restated that position Sunday in response to Correa's comments.
Without entirely closing the door to Snowden, whom Ecuadorean authorities strongly praised earlier in the week, Correa appeared to be telegraphing that it's unlikely the 30-year-old leaker will ever end up in Ecuador. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S. legal process and praised Vice President Joe Biden for what he described as a courteous and appreciated half-hour call about the Snowden case on Friday.
He similarly declined to reject an important set of U.S. trade benefits for Ecuadorean exports, again a contrast with his government's unilateral renunciation of a separate set of tariff benefits earlier in the week.
"If he really could have broken North American laws, I am very respectful of other countries and their laws and I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities," Correa said. "But we also believe in human rights and due process."
He said Biden had asked him to send Snowden back to the United States immediately because he faces criminal charges, is a fugitive from justice and has had his passport revoked.
"I told him that we would analyze his opinion, which is very important to us," Correa said, adding that he had demanded the return of several Ecuadoreans who are in the United States but face criminal charges at home.
"I greatly appreciated the call," he said, contrasting it with threats by a small group of U.S. senators to revoke Ecuadorean trade privileges. "When I received the call from Vice President Bide, which was with great cordiality and a different vision, we really welcomed it a lot."