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US and Russian officials discuss ‘new status’ of NSA leaker

On Thursday, Edward Snowden left an airport transit zone after five weeks. His whereabouts were unknown Friday.

Human Rights Watch via Associated Press/file

On Thursday, Edward Snowden left an airport transit zone after five weeks. His whereabouts were unknown Friday.

MOSCOW — Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive intelligence analyst, settled into a secluded, uncertain self-exile here Friday amid signs that the United States and Russia might try to contain the diplomatic fallout over Russia’s decision to grant him temporary asylum.

The US ambassador here, Michael A. McFaul, met on Friday with one of President Vladimir Putin’s senior aides to discuss the “new status” of Snowden, but also a range of other international issues, including cuts in nuclear stockpiles, missile defense, and the conflict in Syria. The US Embassy announced the ambassador’s meeting with the aide, Yuri V. Ushakov, in a posting on its Twitter account in Russian, but embassy officials declined to elaborate on the discussions.

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Ushakov previously said Snowden’s case was not important enough to derail Russia’s overall relationship with the United States, and the inclusion of other topics suggested that the administration was trying to gauge whether cooperation was still possible in advance of planned meetings between President Obama and Putin in September.

On Thursday, after Snowden walked out of an airport transit zone where he had remained for five weeks after arriving in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23, the White House protested and questioned the utility of the planned summit between the two leaders in Moscow. The White House stopped short of announcing that Obama would cancel it.

A senior Russian lawmaker, Igor N. Morozov, said Friday that he could not rule out the possibility that Snowden might in fact leave Russian territory before the end of the month, resolving at least in part the latest irritant in relations.

“This temporary decision leaves the Russian side a certain space for maneuvering, including the possibility to organize the movement of Snowden to another country,” Morozov, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of Parliament, told the Interfax news agency. “The Russian side is interested in Snowden leaving our territory, and this whole story is not a reason for worsening relations with the United States.”

By Friday evening, the Kremlin made no official statement about Snowden’s fate, though Putin had ample opportunity to make remarks as he fielded questions from supporters attending an annual youth camp at Seliger Lake northwest of Moscow. None of the questioners in what is typically a scripted encounter with the public broached the controversy, nor did Putin raise it.

Snowden’s whereabouts also remained a mystery. The Russian lawyer who handled Snowden’s appeal for temporary asylum, Anatoly G. Kucherena, said Snowden had found a place to live but declined to say where, or even to specify whether it was in Moscow.

He said Snowden continued to mull his next steps, understanding that his situation remained far from settled legally.

“As you know, he is receiving threats from the United States government every day,” Kucherena said. “The situation is heating up.”

Snowden had previously indicated that he hoped to receive political asylum in Latin America, possibly Bolivia, Ecuador, or Venezuela. An official at the Venezuelan Embassy said officials there had had no contact with Snowden since his release. Officials at the embassies of Bolivia and Ecuador declined to comment.

Kucherena added that Snowden had agreed informally to a condition that Putin set for staying in Russia, though he had made no written statement to that effect.

“If he wants to stay here,” Putin said in July, “there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, strange as it sounds from my lips.”

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