QUITO (Reuters) - Talks have resumed between Ecuador and Britain over the fate of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, and Ecuador’s government said on Wednesday it was optimistic of a deal that would prevent him being extradited to the United States.
Assange has been in hiding at Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than two months, seeking to avoid being sent to Sweden for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations -- and triggering a diplomatic stand-off that now looks to be easing.
“I‘m convinced we’ll find a way out ... I‘m hopeful because the global mood that the Julian Assange case is generating will help us to find a way out,” Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told Reuters in an interview in Quito, confirming talks resumed in London on Wednesday.
Britain has said it is determined to extradite the former computer hacker to Sweden, and that the 41-year-old Australian will be arrested if sets foot outside the embassy building.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has granted Assange asylum and says he shares Assange’s fears that he might be sent from Sweden to the United States to face charges over WikiLeaks’ publication in 2010 of secret U.S. cables.
Correa fumed at a veiled British threat to enter the embassy to arrest him but said over the weekend that the threat had been lifted and he considered the “unfortunate incident” over.
Assange remains trapped in the embassy, but both sides have said they want to talk. In a sign of thawing tensions, Ecuador’s Vice President Lenin Moreno met Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday during a visit to London for the Paralympic Games. Both governments said they discussed the situation with Assange.
Patino told Reuters he was optimistic that Britain would agree to compromise on Ecuador’s demand that Assange be given written guarantees he would not be extradited from Sweden to any third country.
“It’s possible that Great Britain could seek to move forward with the guarantees, because they have repeatedly said that they don’t want to provide the safe-passage (so Assange could leave the embassy and fly to Ecuador),” Patino said.
“The option of the guarantees is possibly more feasible ... We should get clear, written guarantees from the countries with which we’re negotiating.”
In an interview last week, Correa told Reuters he was skeptical the British and Swedish governments would shift their stance on Assange, but that it would be “perfectly possible”, in theory, for them to grant Assange the assurances he wanted.
Correa said that if Britain and Sweden agree not to extradite Assange to the United States, he would decline the asylum offer and hand himself over to Swedish prosecutors.
U.S. and European government sources say the United States has issued no criminal charges against Assange and that Washington has launched no attempt to extradite him.
Despite the resumption of talks, Patino cautioned that there were unlikely to be any quick results from Wednesday’s meeting.
The vice president, Patino said, was merely accepting a “friendly invitation” from Hague. “He’s going to listen to what he has to say, but no more, because it’s not the responsibility of the vice president to carry out these kind of negotiations.”
In a short statement, the Foreign Office said Hague and Moreno had discussed Assange’s case. “They confirmed the UK and Ecuador’s commitment to dialogue to find a diplomatic solution to the matter.”
Additional reporting by Michael Holden in London; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Kieran Murray and Cynthia Osterman