x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ecuador moves towards talks on WikiLeaks' Assange

Foreign minister does not want dispute to drag on.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a statement to the media and supporters at a window of Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Sunday. Assange entered the embassy in June.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a statement to the media and supporters at a window of Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Sunday. Assange entered the embassy in June.

QUIT0 // Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino said yesterday he was open to talks with Britain over the fate of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in the nation's London embassy.

Ecuador set off a diplomatic row last week by granting asylum to Mr Assange, who was to be extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and molestation made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers.

Ecuador granted asylum to the Australian national on Thursday, but Britain refused to grant him safe passage out of the country.

Mr Assange, 41, claims Sweden plans to hand him over to the United States, where he fears prosecution over the release by WikiLeaks of a vast cache of embassy cables as well as secret files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We prefer to continue working on talks with Great Britain," Mr Patino said on the Ecuadorean TV network Gama. "Heading to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague would be the path to take after that."

Since the ICJ could take years to reach a decision, "we prefer that this issue is resolved before some years go by," he added.

Britain angered Ecuador by suggesting it could invoke the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987, which it says allows it to revoke the diplomatic immunity of the embassy and go in to arrest Mr Assange.

Before talks can start, "we expect ... that they officially tell us that the threat is no longer in effect, because it's currently in effect," Patino said.

Britain insists it never threatened to storm the building and merely made Ecuador's government aware of the existence of the law.

The WikiLeaks founder made a defiant appearance at the embassy balcony on Sunday, accusing the United States of conducting a "witch hunt" against his websites and praising Ecuador's "courage".

Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations on Sunday expressed "solidarity" with the decision to grant Assange asylum. A joint statement at the end of the meeting urged Ecuador and Britain "to pursue dialogue in search of a mutually acceptable solution".