UK seeks amicable solution with Ecuador over Assange
BRITAIN is seeking an amicable solution with Ecuador to their diplomatic standoff over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a UK official says.
The comments come as the Australian prepared to make his first public statement since the South American country confirmed it would offer him asylum.
Julian Assange, who took shelter in the Ecuadorian embassy on June 19 after he exhausted all routes of appeal in the UK to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sexual misconduct allegations, is scheduled to make a public statement on Sunday.
London diplomats have spoken with Ecuadorian ambassador Ana Alban since the South American country granted Assange asylum on Thursday, a move which threatens to further complicate Sweden’s two-year long attempt to have the activist extradited from Britain.
British officials in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, have also contacted the country’s foreign ministry to discuss a resumption of talks over the case, and to quell anger prompted when Britain appeared to suggest it could invoke a little-known law to strip Ecuador’s embassy of diplomatic privileges – meaning police would be free to move in and detain Assange.
But there was little sign of a friendlier atmosphere on Saturday from Quito, however, where Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said on his weekly broadcast that Britain’s “direct threat” about possibly entering the embassy had come “in a totally offensive, inconsiderate, intolerable manner”.
He said Ecuador “never wanted to impede the investigation of a supposed crime. What we wanted to impede is the extradition to a third country”.
Correa complained again that Britain and Sweden had declined to give assurances against such an extradition.
British diplomats have repeated assurances that the government was simply setting out the country’s legal options, not making a specific threat to storm the country’s mission – a small apartment in London’s ritzy Knightsbridge district, close to the famed Harrods department store.
“We are continuing to seek a diplomatic solution,” a British government official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to comment publicly on the talks with Ecuador.
“We remain ready to continue the conversations we have had, but that is now a question for the Ecuadorians.”
Britain had held seven rounds of formal talks with Ecuador over the stalemate before Thursday’s decision.
But Foreign Secretary William Hague insists Britain has no option but to meet the obligations of a European arrest warrant and send Assange to Stockholm.
WikiLeaks has declined to comment in more detail on Assange’s planned statement on Sunday, however the organisation has said Assange plans to speak outside the embassy – which if correct, could expose him to arrest.
If the 41-year-old steps foot outside Ecuador’s mission, he faces immediate detention by the dozens of British police who surround the building and are stationed inside a shared lobby.
While Assange stays inside, he is seemingly out of reach of British authorities, prompting speculation that he may address the public from a window or the embassy’s small balcony.