Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden said today he would submit a request for asylum to Russia, where he plans to stay until he can travel to Latin American countries to weigh asylum offers.

"I announced today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future," Snowden said in a statement to human rights activists whom he had invited for a closed-door meeting at Moscow's airport, according to a transcript of his remarks that was posted on WikiLeaks.

Snowden asked the activists gathered at Sheremetyevo airport for assistance in securing his asylum in Russia until he is able to travel. Placed on no-fly lists by Washington, Snowden said the U.S. is aiming to make an example of him, "a warning to all others who might speak out as I have.

"I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression."

In a phone conversation Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama raised concerns directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow's handling of the former U.S. spy agency contractor.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier that conversation would largely be about Snowden, who is wanted in the United States for disclosing state secrets. A White House statement about the Obama-Putin call made no mention of sending Snowden back to the U.S.

Wanted on espionage charges

Snowden had earlier emailed human rights groups, asking them them to meet with him to discuss "threatening behaviour" by the United States to prevent him gaining asylum.

The meeting was the first of its kind since Snowden flew to Moscow from Hong Kong in June. He has been stranded in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport ever since, unable to take up asylum offers.

Activists who were at the meeting with Snowden included:

  • Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International's Russia office.
  • Tatiana Lokshina, deputy head of the Russian office of Human Rights Watch.
  • Vladimir Lukin, Russia's presidential human rights ombudsman.
  • Genri Reznik, a prominent lawyer.

Snowden is wanted by the U.S. on espionage charges for divulging details of secret U.S. surveillance programs.

'I did not seek to enrich myself'

The Kremlin has kept Snowden at arm's length, saying he had not entered Russian soil.

Snowden had earlier withdrawn a request for asylum in Russia after President Vladimir Putin admonished him for doing work that was harmful to "our American partners."

Putin has said Snowden should choose a final destination and go there as soon as possible, but it is unclear how he would get to any of the three Latin American countries that have offered him asylum —Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, told Russian news agencies after Snowden's announcement Friday that Russia has not received a new bid for asylum from Snowden and that Putin would continue to insist that Snowden stop leaking information

Also in the statement posted by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, Snowden said that in leaking the U.S. surveillance information, "I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing.

"I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice."

His statement adds, "That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets."

With files from Reuters, The Associated Press