WikiLeaks' Assange Seeks Exit from Ecuador London Embassy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he may leave the embassy of Ecador in London where he has sought political asylum for the past two years.

During a news conference with Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, Assange confirmed a WikiLeaks spokesman's statement he would leave the embassy "soon." Assange did not offer further details.

Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in 2012 when British courts said he could be extradited to Sweden for allegations of sexual misconduct there.

The Australian former journalist fears Sweden would hand him over to the United States, where he likely would face trial for one of the largest leaks of classified material in American history.

Assange and his WikiLeaks team published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents, including military documents on the Iraq war and U.S. embassy cables detailing its dealings with countries around the world. 

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said "let us hope that he leaves the embassy very soon," but added Assange would only leave if the British authorities dropped their decision to extradite him.

The British government says it has spent $10 million policing the embassy to ensure Assange does not flee the country.

Patino said he hopes his government could meet with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to discuss the situation.

Ecuadors Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino (left) and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speak during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Aug. 18, 2014. /AP Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino (left) and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speak during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Aug. 18, 2014. /AP

WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of confidential U.S. documents on the Internet in 2010. That embarrassed the United States, and some critics say it put national security and people's lives at risk.

Ecuador later granted Assange political asylum. But he was unable to leave Britain and has ended up living in the embassy's cramped quarters in central London.

His comments briefly raised the possibility of his leaving imminently. But Kristinn Hrafnsson, his spokesman, told reporters that he could only do so if the British government "calls off the siege outside." Assange had no intention of handing himself over to the police, he added.

Ecuador's Patino said he would try to hold talks with his British counterpart to resolve the case. Recent changes to British extradition laws may mean Assange would not be facing extradition if his case had just started.

Britain's Foreign Office said it remained as committed as ever to reaching a diplomatic solution to the problem, but it reiterated that Assange still needed to be extradited.

"As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and costly, situation to an end," a spokeswoman said.

The Assange issue has put Britain and Ecuador at odds, with London angered by the decision of Ecuador's socialist President Rafael Correa to grant him asylum and Quito unhappy at the British refusal to allow him safe passage.

Asked about his health, Assange said anyone would be affected by spending two years in a building with no outside areas or direct sunlight, a complaint he has made several times before.

Information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.

VOA News / Aug. 19, 2014 08:00 KST