"We have seen, of course, the press reports and are seeking clarification from the Russian government,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing Wednesday. "Obviously any move that would allow Mr. Snowden to depart the airport would be deeply disappointing.”
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone Wednesday morning, Psaki said, a conversation that followed Russian media reports citing sources at the airport and with Russian migration authorities saying that Snowden had been issued a document that would allow him to leave the transit zone.
Following the reports, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who is helping Snowden in his bid to secure asylum in Russia, told reporters at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport that his application for temporary asylum remains under consideration and that the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor will remain in the transit zone in the meantime.
"We are still seeking an update on the exact status,” Psaki told reporters in Washington. "Our understanding is he’s still in the transit lounge.”
In their telephone conversation Wednesday, Kerry expressed to Lavrov that Washington believes "Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States, where he will have a fair trial,” and "that Russia still has the ability to do the right thing,” Psaki added.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One earlier Wednesday that the administration of US President Barack Obama is "seeking clarity from Russian authorities about Mr. Snowden’s status.”
Carney added that he had no updates on how Snowden’s status might impact Obama’s plans to travel to Russia in September for the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, except to say that Obama still intends to travel to Russia. The trip includes a scheduled summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for leaking classified data about the NSA’s activities, formally requested temporary asylum in Russia on July 16.
He has reportedly been living in the Sheremetyevo transit zone since arriving there on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23.
US officials have repeatedly insisted that Snowden should be returned to the United States to face espionage charges.
"Russia still has the ability to do the right thing and facilitate his return,” Psaki said Wednesday.
Updated with comments from US State Department and background on Kerry-Lavrov phone call.