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Hinting at more US cooperation, Ecuador's president says Snowden 'under the care' of Russia

Guillermo Granja / Reuters

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa gestures during an interview with Reuters in Portoviejo.

Self-professed National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is "under the care of the Russian authorities" and cannot leave Moscow to seek asylum in Ecuador because his U.S. passport was revoked, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said on Sunday.

Snowden has reportedly been hiding out at Moscow's international airport since requesting political asylum in the South American nation June 24. Snowden flew to Russia from Hong Kong on June 23 but has not been seen since his arrival.

Correa said his government cannot begin reviewing Snowden's request until he has traveled to Ecuador or an Ecuadorean embassy to formally apply.

"This is the decision of Russian authorities. He doesn't have a passport," Correa told The Associated Press during an interview in the coastal city of Puerto Viejo. "At this moment he's under the care of the Russian authorities."

Russian officials told Reuters that Snowden remains in a transit area at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport.

The U.S. government has charged Snowden, a 30-year-old former employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, with theft of government property and two violations of espionage statutes for purportedly leaking a trove of information about two top-secret government surveillance programs to the British newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Although Correa has previously praised the purported leaker, his comments Sunday suggested that the Ecuadorean government will defer to U.S. officials who seek to extradite and try Snowden.

"If he really could have broken North American laws, I am very respectful of other countries and their laws and I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities," Correa said. "But we also believe in human rights and due process."

Ecuador last year offered a safe haven to WikiLeaks impresario Julian Assange in its London embassy, where he still remains.

Correa's remarks came one day after he discussed Snowden with Vice President Joe Biden on the phone. Biden reportedly asked the South American leader, historically a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy, not to grant asylum to Snowden, according to Reuters.

"I told him that we would analyze his opinion, which is very important to us," Correa told the AP, noting that he had implored the U.S. for the safe return of several Ecuadorians living in the U.S. who face criminal charges in their native country.

"I greatly appreciated the call," he said. "When I received the call from Vice President Biden, which was with great cordiality and a different vision, we really welcomed it a lot."

The call between Biden and Correa – the highest-level exchange reported between the U.S. and Ecuador since Snowden’s June 24 plea for asylum – came just two days after President Barack Obama said he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker” and should not have to speak personally with the leaders of Russia and China to return Snowden to the U.S.

Inside the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport are shops, restaurants and a hotel that could make the possibility of an extended stay for NSA leaker Edward Snowden not so bad. NBC's Ghazi Balkiz reports.

Obama pledged not to engage in “wheeling and dealing and trading and a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so he can face the justice system here in the United States.”

Meanwhile, new allegations stemming from Snowden's purported leaks have raised the ire of European leaders.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, expressed outrage over allegations published in the German magazine Der Spiegel that American allegedly infilitrated computers and installed bugs at EU offices on U.S. soil.

"I am shocked. With all respect for the security interests of the United States, this should not develop into paranoia that friends are alienated," Schulz told the German broadcast ZDF.

"I will ask the U.S. ambassador for explanations" of the alleged spying activities, he said.

Schulz's comments were echoed by French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.

"If these facts are confirmed, this will be totally unacceptable," he said in a communique issued Sunday.

When asked about the Der Spiegel report, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said he hadn't seen it and "would not comment on unauthorized disclosures of intelligence programs."

"The intelligence community would be the most appropriate to" comment, Rhodes said Saturday.

"The only thing I would add, though, is that those are some of our closest intelligence partners, so it's worth noting that the Europeans work very closely with us. We have very close intelligence relationships with them."

NBC News' Shawna Thomas, Andy Eckardt, and Nancy Ing contributed to this report. The Associated Press and Reuters also contributed.

Related: EU confronts Washington over reports it spies on European allies