QUITO (Reuters) - - Ecuador does not plan to intervene with the British government on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in talks over his situation as an asylee in the South American country’s London embassy, Ecuador’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Foreign Minister José Valencia said in an interview with Reuters that Ecuador’s only responsibility was looking after Assange’s wellbeing, after the Australian national sued the country over new conditions placed on his asylum in the London embassy.
“Ecuador has no responsibility to take any further steps,” Valencia said. “We are not Mr. Assange’s lawyers, nor are we representatives of the British government. This is a matter to be resolved between Assange and Great Britain.”
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment after normal business hours.
Greg Barns, an Australian lawyer advising Assange, said in an email that “developments in the case in recent times” showed the need for Australia’s government to intervene to assist “one of its citizens who faces real danger.”
This position marks a departure from Ecuador’s previous practice of maintaining dialogue with British authorities over Assange’s situation since granting him asylum in 2012, when he took refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy after British courts ordered his extradition to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual molestation case.
That case has since been dropped, but friends and supporters have said that Assange now fears he could be arrested and eventually extradited to the United States if he leaves the embassy.
WikiLeaks, which published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation, faces a U.S. grand jury investigation.
Valencia said he was “frustrated” by Assange’s decision to file suit in an Ecuadorean court last week over new terms of his asylum, which required him to pay for medical bills and telephone calls and to clean up after his pet cat.
“There is no obligation in international agreements for Ecuador to pay for things like Mr. Assange’s laundry,” he said.
Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno has said that asylum is not meant to be eternal, but he has expressed concern about the possibility that Assange may be extradited to the United States. Valencia said on Tuesday that he has not discussed Assange’s situation with the United States’ government.
Last December, Ecuador granted Assange Ecuadorean citizenship and sought to name him as a member of the country’s diplomatic mission in Britain and Russia, which could have assured him safe passage to leave the embassy. Britain denied the request.
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, Writing by Luc Cohen, Editing by Toni Reinhold and Michael Perry