SNOWDEN AFFAIR

US officials distance themselves from the European airspace episode that grounded Evo Morales

“Those decisions were taken by Spain, France, Portugal and Italy,” says State Department Bolivian leader: measures taken were a “provocation” against Latin America

Evo Morales' plane landing at Gran Canaria airport before refueling and continuing the Bolivian president's journey to La Paz.
Evo Morales' plane landing at Gran Canaria airport before refueling and continuing the Bolivian president's journey to La Paz.Angel Medina G. / EFE

US officials have distanced themselves from the diplomatic uproar that resulted from a decision taken by the governments of Spain, France, Italy and Portugal to close off their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales as he was returning home from Moscow late on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. The four nations reportedly suspected that Morales was smuggling former US intelligence contractor and wanted fugitive Edward Snowden on board his presidential plane.

Bolivia has accused the four nations of bowing down to the United States’ demands to prohibit his plane from crossing their airspace, and has threatened to file complaints at international forums.

Morales and his entourage were held up for 13 hours in Vienna until the nations agreed to allow him to fly through.

On Wednesday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that those measures were taken by the individual nations and had nothing to do with any pressure from Washington.

The United States has been in conversations with a number of countries, which were not named, over the possibility of returning Snowden, who has been holed up at the transit lounge at the Moscow airport for nearly two weeks, Psaki confirmed.

“Our position on Mr Snowden has also been crystal clear in terms of what we want to happen, and that message has been communicated both publicly and privately in a range of these conversations we’ve had with countries,” she said. “He’s been accused of leaking classified information. He’s been charged with three felony counts and should be returned to the United States.”

They will never intimidate us because we are a nation with dignity and sovereignty” Evo Morales

However, Psaki declined to say whether the United States was in contact with any of the four nations early Wednesday morning during the time Morales’ flight was grounded at the Vienna International Airport.

“I’m not going to get into diplomatic conversations that happened over the past 10 days and which countries they were with, but I would point you to the countries that you’re referring to and ask you to ask them about decisions that were made,” she said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing the actions taken by Spain, Italy, France and Portugal, describing them as “unfriendly” measures.

Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo explained that Spain’s problem was in relation to the time frame that Morales’ jet was supposed to cross Spanish airspace. He said the Bolivian president had “difficulties” with authorizations from other countries and missed the window he had been granted to fly over Spain.

Morales eventually made a one-hour stopover at Spain’s Gran Canaria airport before finally returning home late on Wednesday.

When he arrived at El Alto airport in La Paz on Wednesday night, Morales told a multitude of supporters who came out to meet him that the action taken by the four nations “was a provocation against the entire region.”

As they flew into France on the first attempt, Morales recalled, French aviation officials told the pilots of his presidential jet that their authorization to enter French airspace had been canceled and they had to return to Moscow. In the end, the pilots had to make an emergency landing in Vienna because they were running out of fuel.

“They will never intimidate us. They will never scare us because we are a nation with dignity and sovereignty,” Morales said on his arrival in Bolivia.

Vice President Álvaro García Linera announced that Bolivia would file complaints against Spain, France, Portugal and Italy at the United Nations.

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