Britain's best bet to handle Assange: sit and wait
By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's options in dealing with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are limited and British lawyers and diplomats reckon its best course of action is simply to sit tight and wait.
Assange took refuge at Ecuador's London embassy in June to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he faces questioning over rape allegations. It triggered a diplomatic standoff that turned heated last week when Britain threatened to raid the diplomatic mission and Ecuador granted Assange political asylum.
By prompting Latin American accusations of colonial arrogance, and suggesting a move that may well be illegal and would certainly set a dangerous precedent for its own diplomats, Britain was unwise to make the threat, many legal and diplomatic experts say, however frustrating it finds Ecuador's position.
But Quito's leftist and ardently anti-Washington president Rafael Correa, and Assange himself, who made a first appearance in two months from an embassy balcony on Sunday, also have few options, they argue. So Britain has little to gain from haste.
"I don't think for Assange the possibility of spending months or even years at the Ecuadorean embassy is very attractive," said Francisco Panizza, who studies Latin American affairs at the London School of Economics. "And in a way, Britain has everything to gain by playing the waiting game."
While the 41-year-old Australian anti-secrecy campaigner has won a right to live in Ecuador, he has no obvious way of getting there without being arrested by British police who say they are legally obliged to send him to Stockholm. Britain and Sweden do not accept Assange's view that he is a victim of a U.S. "witch-hunt" and Washington has said it has no interest in the matter.
Last week, Britain said it had a legal right to remove the embassy's diplomatic status and then enter to arrest Assange. But many lawyers question that view and diplomats have said that it would put British envoys at risk of repercussions abroad.
"There's no obvious direct action they can take. I exclude the possibility of their simply barging into the embassy," said Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya. Continued...