UK meets with Ecuador over WikiLeaks' Assange

September 27, 2012 - 2:34 PM
UN General Assembly Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addresses a meeting via videolink from Ecuador's London embassy during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Ecuador has asked Britain whether fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange might be allowed to leave his London hideout for medical treatment, as the two countries met Thursday to seek to end a deadlock over the activist's fate.

Assange has sheltered inside Ecuador's embassy in London, beyond the reach of British police, since June 19 — a total of 100 days. He is seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sex crimes allegations.

Though Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, if he steps outside the building he will be arrested and flown to Sweden.

In talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino asked his counterpart whether the U.K. would hypothetically allow Assange to receive medical care without risking arrest.

Assange appeared pale and sounded hoarse in an appearance via videolink to a meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Wednesday. However, British officials said that Patino had insisted there was no immediate concern about Assange's health.

Britain pledged to consider the request and deliver an answer later — but reminded Patino that Britain was obliged under international law to deport Assange for questioning over the rape and sexual misconduct allegations.

Following the talks, Patino said in a message posted to his Twitter account that he was "confident that we will find a diplomatic solution to the case."

Patino said on Wednesday that Ecuador had granted Assange asylum because it accepts his belief that the Swedish sex case is simply part of a Washington-orchestrated plot to put him on trial in the U.S. over his work with WikiLeaks.

A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might link Assange to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who is charged with aiding the enemy by passing the secret files to WikiLeaks and awaiting trial.

Though no action against Assange has been taken, his supporters insist that — if it did — he could face harsh conditions in U.S. custody, or even the death penalty. Assange insists that if he was sent to Sweden he would be at a greater risk of then being transferred on to the U.S. — a claim most legal experts dismiss as baseless.

The U.S. State Department has previously accused the activist of deliberately raising that scenario to divert attention from the Swedish case.

Amnesty International on Thursday said it feared Assange would be at a real risk of suffering "serious human rights violations" in the U.S. However, it noted it had no evidence that Sweden had any intention of extraditing Assange to the U.S.

Hague also told Patino that British extradition law includes extensive human rights safeguards. Under international law, both the U.K. and Sweden would need to agree to any attempt to send Assange from Sweden to the U.S.

"He requested the government of Ecuador to study these provisions closely in considering the way ahead," a spokesman for Hague said, on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Patino and Hague are expected to meet again in the next two months to discuss the case further.

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Associated Press Writer Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador contributed to this report.