* Russia says Snowden still in Moscow airport transit area
* Russia has urged Snowden to leave, but appears in no rush
* Hagel says Snowden responsible for "serious security
* U.S. senator warns Ecuador's trade access at risk
* U.S. public support for Snowden slips
By Alessandra Prentice and Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW, June 26 A former U.S. spy agency
contractor facing charges of espionage remained in hiding at a
Moscow airport on Wednesday while the prospect grew of a
protracted wrangle over his fate.
Ecuador, where Edward Snowden has requested asylum, said a
decision could take months and asked Washington to argue its
case for extradition. Russia said Snowden, whose flight is
proving a growing embarrassment for President Barack Obama, was
still in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport.
A leading U.S. senator sought to raise pressure on Ecuador
by saying he would seek to end preferential access for its goods
to the United States if it gave asylum to Snowden, while Quito
denied it had given him any travel document.
Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong this month after
leaking details of secret U.S. government surveillance
programmes, then flew on to Moscow on Sunday.
He has not been seen in the transit area - the zone between
the departure gate and formal entry into the country - since his
arrival, although a receptionist at a hotel in the transit zone
said he looked at the prices there on Sunday, then left.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that Snowden was
being interviewed by Russian intelligence and called any U.S.
accusations that Moscow was aiding him "ravings and rubbish".
There was no sign of Snowden registering for onward flights
out of Russia on Wednesday.
"They are not flying today and not over the next three
days," an Aeroflot representative at Sheremetyevo said when
asked if Snowden and his legal adviser, Briton Sarah Harrison,
were due to fly out. "They are not in the system."
'SERIOUS SECURITY BREACH'
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday that
Snowden's leaks to news media had been a "serious security
breach" that damaged U.S. national security. He repeated calls
for Moscow to hand him over.
"I would hope that the Russians do the right thing here,"
Hagel told a Pentagon news conference, adding that Moscow
evidently had not made a final decision since Snowden reportedly
was still at the airport.
Putin has said he will not extradite Snowden. By declaring
that he is in the transit area, Russian authorities maintain the
position that he has not formally entered Russia - a step that
would take the dispute to another level.
Russian law requires travellers who spend more than 24 hours
in the airport's transit area - as Snowden has done - to obtain
a transit visa, which in some cases is valid for three days.
It is unclear whether Snowden has sought or received a visa,
and if so when it would expire. The United States said on Sunday
it had revoked Snowden's passport.
Several people, mainly refugees, have been able to stay in
Moscow's airports for months.
What is clear is that the longer the situation remains
unresolved, the more it could fray U.S.-Russian ties.
The former Cold War-foes are already at odds over human
rights and Putin's treatment of opponents and have squared off
over the Syria conflict in the U.N. Security Council.
Hagel reiterated criticism of China over Snowden's departure
from Hong Kong. "We're very disappointed in the Chinese
government in how they've handled this. And it could have been
handled a different way," he said.
The United States has no extradition treaty with Moscow, but
says there is a clear legal basis for Snowden to be handed over.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday that U.S. and
Russian officials were "having conversations" on the issue, but
declined to give details.
Carney told reporters Washington could understand that
Snowden's decision to go to Moscow "creates issues the Russian
government has to consider."
"We also believe that when it comes to Mr. Snowden, well, we
agree with President Putin that we don't want the situation to
harm our relations," Carney said while travelling with Obama to
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated Putin's view
that Snowden should choose a destination and fly out as soon as
possible, state-run Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Putin, a former KGB officer, may feel little sympathy for
someone who has broken the secrecy code. He has suggested the
surveillance methods revealed by Snowden were justified in
fighting terror, if carried out lawfully.
RUSSIA APPEARS IN NO HURRY
But Snowden could be a useful propaganda tool for Moscow,
which accuses the United States of violating rights and freedoms
it vocally urges other countries, including Russia, to protect.
Despite Putin and Lavrov's remarks, Moscow is clearly not in
a hurry to dispatch Snowden from its territory. Ecuador, which
has not in the past flinched from taking on Western powers, is
similarly not rushing to banish the uncertainty plaguing U.S.
On Wednesday, Robert Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, said that accepting Snowden "would
severely jeopardize" preferential trade access the United States
provides to Ecuador under two programs currently up for renewal.
"Our government will not reward countries for bad
behaviour," he said, while also calling on Russia to stop
Ecuador exported $5.4 billion of oil, $166 million of cut
flowers, $122 million of fruit and vegetables and $80 million of
tuna to the United States under one of the trade programmes.
While Ecuador could find other markets for its oil, ending
the benefits could badly hurt the cut flower industry, which
employs more than 100,000 workers, many of them women.
The logical route for Snowden to take out of Moscow - and
one for which he at one point had a reservation - would be an
Aeroflot flight to Havana and a connecting flight to Ecuador.
But Ecuador's foreign minister indicated a decision on
Snowden's asylum request could take two months.
"It took us two months to make a decision on Assange so do
not expect us to make a decision sooner this time," Foreign
Minister Richard Patino said in Kuala Lumpur, referring to the
founder of anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, Julian Assange.
He added that Ecuador would consider giving Snowden
protection before that if he went to Ecuador's embassy - but
Russian officials say Snowden does not have a visa to enter
Ecuador's acting foreign minister, standing in for Patino in
Quito, was quoted by local media as saying on Wednesday that
Ecuador had not given a temporary travel document to Snowden,
contradicting Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy
Assange told reporters on Monday that Ecuador had supplied
Snowden with a "refugee document of passage".
"That's not true. There is no passport, no document that has
been given (to Snowden) by any Ecuadorean consulate," the acting
minister, Galo Galarza, said in comments posted on the website
of Ecuador's Teleamazonas, a private television station.
Snowden, who worked as a systems administrator at a U.S.
National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, was the source of
disclosures about U.S. government surveillance that included
details about a program that collected emails, chat logs and
other types of data from companies such as Google Inc,
Facebook Inc, Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc
He has divided opinion in the United States, where many have
been outraged by the extent of government snooping.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed that
Americans were still more likely to view Snowden as a "patriot"
rather than a "traitor," but also that public support for him
had fallen during the past week.
More than a quarter of respondents said Snowden should be
prosecuted to the full extent of the law, up 3 percentage points
from a week earlier. Just over one-third said he should not be
prosecuted, down from a peak of more than 40 percent last week.