President Barack Obama tried to cool the international frenzy over Edward Snowden on Thursday as Ecuador stepped up its defiance and said it was preemptively rejecting millions in trade benefits that it could lose by taking in the fugitive from his limbo in a Moscow airport.
The country seen as likeliest to shelter the National Security Agency leaker seemed determined to prove it could handle any repercussions, with three of its highest officials calling an early-morning news conference to “unilaterally and irrevocably renounce” $23 million a year in lowered tariffs on products such as roses, shrimp and frozen vegetables.
Fernando Alvarado, the secretary of communications for leftist President Rafael Correa, sarcastically suggested the U.S. use the money to train government employees to respect human rights.
Obama, meanwhile, sought to downplay the international chase for the man he called “a 29-year-old hacker” and lower the temperature of an issue that has raised tensions between the U.S. and uneasy partners Russia and China. Obama said in Senegal that the damage to U.S. national security already has been done, and his top focus now is making sure it can’t happen again.
Alvarado, the communications minister, said his country rejects economic “blackmail” in the form of threats against the trade measures.
“The preferences were authorized for Andean countries as compensation for the fight against drugs, but soon became a new instrument of pressure,” he said. “As a result, Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces these preferences.”