Ecuador said on Thursday that it could grant Edward Snowden asylum any day, fuelling fresh speculation that the US fugitive might soon depart Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Snowden’s asylum request could be decided “in a day, a week or – as happened with Assange – within two months,” Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino wrote on Twitter.
He said earlier reports had misquoted him as only saying that the decision could take as long as with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who was granted asylum by the Latin American country a year ago.
Reporters gathered at the airport for a fifth day on Thursday had been focused on a 2:05 pm (1005 GMT) flight to Cuba, from where he would be able to connect onward to Ecuador.
But neither Snowden nor Wikileaks activist Sarah Harrison, who has accompanied the whistleblower since he left Hong Kong on Sunday, were spotted on the flight to Havana.
The former intelligence contractor who exposed details of US online spying activities has been reportedly trapped in Moscow with no valid travel document after the US cancelled his passport on Saturday. Ecuador on Wednesday denied a claim by Assange that it had provided Snowden with a refugee passport.
However, US Spanish-language television channel Univision then published a letter that it said was a “safe pass” for Snowden from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
The Ecuadorian mission has been the refuge of Wikileaks founder Assange since June 2012.
US lawmakers warned on Wednesday they would block renewal of Ecuador’s reduced tariff preferences if Quito grants him political asylum, while Ecuador said the US must explain in writing why refuge should not be granted.
Snowden’s odyssey began on Sunday when he fled Hong Kong after being charged in the US with espionage and theft of government documents.
The Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow said that Snowden argued in his asylum application that he fears receiving an unfair trial in US and being sentenced to life imprisonment or death.
US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell dismissed suggestions that Snowden is a political fugitive, saying the charges of espionage and theft of government property constitute a criminal felony.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected the idea of handing Snowden over, arguing that there was no extradition treaty between Russia and the United States.