Zakaria: Snowden situation unique
June 26th, 2013
10:56 AM ET

Zakaria: Snowden situation unique

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is a "free man" biding his time in a Moscow airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. But should Barack Obama have taken the opportunity during a key speech the same day to ask Russia to send Snowden back to the United States? Fareed offers his take on the Situation Room.

If the president would have, for example, opened up his speech over at Georgetown University and said, I'm going to talk about climate change in a moment, but first, I just want to [offer] a direct appeal to Russia to send Snowden back to the United States, it obviously would escalate this situation, because the president has a lot more at stake then.

I think the danger is that if the president makes a public appeal like that and it doesn't work, you really do look bad. You lose credibility.

So I think the White House is probably calculating exactly how much pressure they can put. They started out very tough with the Russians, thinking that they might even kind of push them into doing something. And it became very clear the Russians weren't willing to do that. So they're now playing nicer. They're saying, look, can't you help us?

The U.S. has extradited a number of people. But this is a unique situation. This is a situation in which the person that we're talking about has revealed that the United States is engaging in massive surveillance programs of many, many foreign countries and governments. So from the point of view of those foreign countries and governments, it is, of course, a very complicated issue. I bet you that if you were to poll public opinion in Russia or China, they would support what their governments are doing right now.

Can the president sweeten the pot, if you will – give the Russians something that they've wanted from the United States for a long time and try to make a deal along those lines?

You know, part of what's happened here is that the asymmetry of power has become so great. During the Cold War, we spied a lot on them, they spied a lot on us. They would catch one of ours, we'd exchange them.

We have developed, ever since the end of the Cold War and after 9/11, this massive surveillance capacity that dwarfs anything any of these guys have. And so it's not clear what they have that, you know, what could we give them? We tower over them and they resent it. The Chinese resent it. The Russians resent it. So they look upon this as such wonderful P.R. that I don't know what we could give them in return.

I think there are things in a more general sense. The Russians want the relaxation of Jackson-Vanik, which is about grain exports from Russia, which a Cold War relic. There are probably other trade-related issues. But that would be a kind of an unusual tie. Typically in espionage, you've done a like for like, an apples for apples swap, except that we now do stuff that nobody else does, so I don't quite know what we could offer them.

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Topics: Russia • United States

soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. YouMayDisagree

    If a picture could say a thousand words this one would be it. Look at Obama, wise eyes looking straight at you, he is open to reason.Look at Putin, he looks uncomfortable in his own skin, he dug him self in to the chair, concealing one hand inside the other ( like he is got something to hide ) and looking at the floor.

    June 27, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • DB

      It didn't look like he liked the co. he was sitting with to me.

      June 29, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  2. GregtheThird

    Russia's position on the Snowden situation was completely predictable. The fact that no exchange has been made means that we don't have assets to trade for him that are of comparable value. If no exchange has happened by now, it is extremely likely that it won't. If Snowden had other valuable secrets, he would have either found asylum in China or Russia, or he would have met an untimely end by now. So it looks like the only value he has to the U.S. is to be made an example of so that agents will think twice before following in his footsteps. If he slips up, the U.S. should nab him in transit to his next destination. Or perhaps the leadership in his final destination will change some time after he arrives and decide to offer him up for some kind of reward. I believe that is the only excitement left in this game.

    June 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Alex279

      Russia's position on Snowden is predictable ... yet, it is grossly miss-understood by the US politicians and US media.

      The key word is NEUTRALITY. Whatever happened between Snowden and US Government is U.S. internal matter.

      Russia has no business to interfere with Snowden-US affair one way or the other, does not consider Snowden be a criminal, and looks like Russia has no interest in secrete information Snowden is potentially carrying. In practice this means that Showden is free to go into a country of his choice.

      As for US hysteria: the whole situation is nothing but a self-inflicted embarrassment. The most practical way out is tone it down and forget about Snowden. Just do basic damage control, admit what is obvious and cannot be denied; downplay its significance, and move on.

      June 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  3. jod

    Are we supposed to pretend Obama doesn't already look bad, having two countries flat out reject his appeal for extradition? They don't respect him, and they don't respect us anymore. Clinton is reported to have criticized Obama recently as a foreign policy "amateur." I have to agree with that statement. He promised to mend relationships and bridge gaps with other countries when he came to office, but what he didn't realize is that many of the "bad guys" only respect power. Going around sheepishly apologizing for your previous administration doesn't reflect anything but weakness.

    June 27, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Linda

      The criticism by Clinton occurred during the 2008 primary. Not exactly current nor a valid point considering the context.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:04 am |
      • Alex279

        Opps... Wouldn't it be that Form. Pres. Bill Clinton criticizing Obama's foreign policy is the same as Bill Clinton criticizing Hillary Clinton?

        June 28, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Alex279

      Lets clarify this: they two countries did not reject because there was nothing to reject to begin with. US did not formally ask. Interviews to CNN by politicians does not count: Russian Prosecutor General is too busy to watch CNN and is probably not aware of the fact that US wants Snowden back.

      ....Did US formally filed a warrant to Interpol about Snowden?

      June 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • DB

      I agree with you. Many countries were upset with the way Bush was carrying on but they still had respect for the US power and its standing in the world politics. Now they don't have any respect due to the lead from behind policy of Obama, they have no fear of US retaliation, no matter who it is.He has let down many old allies in Europe and Mideast.

      June 29, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  4. Dianne

    ALL governments, including Russia and China have "Intelligence" agencies. People all over the world who think that they are not being monitored are foolish. I could care less about what Snoden leaked. He was being paid to keep his mouth shut like all intelligence employees are and he failed to keep up his end of the arrangement. End of story.
    For as much as people love to hate the USA, why do millions of people leave their home countries to come to live here?? Because even though life is not perfect here, it is still a pretty good life.

    June 27, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
  5. f4xtrafn

    The pictures look like a couple of 4 year olds that were just disciplined by their mother for fighting with each other. Putin looks like he's ready to burst into tears.

    June 28, 2013 at 2:36 am |
  6. not so

    I guess that's what you get when you outsource government jobs to private industry. So much for the 'private industry does it better' argument.

    June 28, 2013 at 2:51 am |
  7. not so

    Industry had to cut corners to 'turn a bigger profit', so they didn't check into their prospective employees as well as they should have. Nobody is talking about the failure of industries' oversight here, are they. If it was a government employee, they would want to impeach Pres. Obama(again)!

    June 28, 2013 at 2:55 am |
  8. Jessica McGwin

    Puttin would not make a trade. Not this time. And I do not get to big for my britches, yes we have some realy neat toys. But we do not have good decision making, gum shoes can get more done in one day than most new agers. So the best in the world are not on the phone, do not write anything down, and can recall every memorie on demand. Others are able to move seamlessly through a "full" proof matrix. Having the coolest toys does not make US the best. And Puttin knows it. So no deal.

    June 28, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  9. William

    Wasn't Jackson-Vanik replealed in 2012? Just Sayin

    June 28, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • John in WNY

      Actually it's almost amusing that to CNN, having a domestic surveillance capacity that would be the envy of the KGB even when they were at the height of power, is a good thing.


      June 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
      • Alex279

        Jackson-Vanik originally was about not letting Jews to emigrate from Soviet Union. Human right were added later during Carter era. And it 2001 soon after Sept. 11 Bush came to Moscow and solemnly promised to get rid of Jackson-Vanik, however ... remember poultry scandal happened in fall 2001? Russian surgeon general banned import American chicken quarters alleging too high hormone level and too high chlorine. So US Congress retaliated by refusing repeal Jackson-Vanik.

        June 28, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  10. Jack 2

    Obama is just plain weak as president. Putin has even said so. Most foreign leaders see Obama as a weak person. Most of all most in America think Obama's weak

    June 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Alex279 why did not you vote for Romney, or even for McCain/Palin in 2008?

      You may not like him, but face it: Obama is the best of the best of what US political establishment may offer.

      Bush/Romney/McCain/Palin are much worse.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
      • DB

        Hillary would have outshone Obama by a wide margin. He comes across as a weak undecided leader who doesn't make a decision until it's too late to have any good effects.

        June 29, 2013 at 12:30 am |
      • Alex279

        Hillary ended up being disaster,disgrace, and embarrassment for the United States: another RESET was needed to partially repair / mitigate the damage she made.

        June 29, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  11. sayflyby

    that snowden an his with boy from the hood appasodes some one like kim jong should put him back I jail get believe he is not in jail dame phones whos as he notr taped?all the nations in the world he has taped well any way snowden yo7r name is wacked you iced ,.pnm,.ps u snowgagrila who be snowed?,.pnm,./

    June 28, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  12. TopView20

    Fareed Zakaria, please tell us about what you believe Snowden should and can do to save himself. In this land of "freedom of speech" I find only biased, useless propaganda. I would greatly prefer your commentary directly on the Snowden situation, based on historically similar situations. THANKS.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  13. TopView20

    Edward Snowden did nothing wrong. He should not have to run at all.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  14. seekstruth

    How about trading Obama war criminal with Snowden as U.S. President. This would work.

    June 28, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
  15. JCF

    Russia should just laugh and say " look what we have Obama and there's not a thing you can do about it " Your a hypocrite of a president.

    June 28, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  16. jay

    Why should US have to offer anything at all? Aren't countries obligated to help each other in legal matters?

    June 28, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Andrey

      Actually not: and US goes out of its way each time to demonstrate that. And it does not understand co-operation anyway: it takes it as a sign of weakness – so forget it!

      June 28, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  17. DJ Reality

    How about if we offer not to send stinger missiles to Syria but do anyway.

    June 28, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  18. sever

    Can offer FLORIDA or ALASKA 1

    June 29, 2013 at 7:32 am |
  19. woodie

    We'll buy more of their Vodka if they hand him over.

    June 29, 2013 at 7:33 am |
  20. EdL

    If a Russian government secrets leaker comparable to Snowden arrived at Washington National Airport and Putin demanded we return this person to Russia immediately would we comply? Would the FBI enter to debrief such person, to see what information of interest he might have. Perhaps offer political asylum if it is juicy enough?

    June 29, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  21. cnnlies

    Of course the US has nothing to offer Russia. The US is broke with over 100% debt to it's GDP. Russia is less than 29%. The US makes nothing and Russia is resource rich. After years of obama prolonging wars in Libya, Iraq, and Afghan, His stance against Russia in Syria and obama crimes of using drones to k1ll innocent women and children and giving money to Al Qaeda rebels in Syria the very rebels that k1lled US troops in Iraq no one has any respect for the POS obama or the US. The US has no creditability. It is a said day when you have 3rd world countries offering the US government 23 million in aid to learn about human rights. And they are all right.

    June 29, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  22. lweba

    Obama has nothing to offer Putin to get the leaker back to the US, but Putin is also not ready to offer asylum to the fugitive because this would make the US their refuge the anti Putin Russians.

    June 29, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Andrey

      Putin is not ready to offer asylum to that brainwashed liberal because Russia does not pick American trash: that's what America does for everybody else – to show how exceptional it is!

      June 30, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  23. tupperhouse

    Why do I have to read about America spying on the EU and the United Nations in foreign media? Beginning to think Snowden Is right American NSA is out of control

    June 29, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  24. Jo Black

    Offer them Snowden or Snowden plus a little cash if that fails.

    June 29, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  25. vilkus

    Well I think the writer is overlooking the fact that Obama has bungled foreign policy.
    As far as Russia, Putin is running the show now. Obama has lost all credibility.
    Obama is a failure and is not taken seriously by the world and cannot make a decision.

    June 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm |


    June 29, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  27. Daniel

    The United States Navy needs to train and equip two Aircraft Carrier groups how to fight without satellite and GPS support. They should be equipped with the latest in Nuclear Capabilities, they should not be used near hot spots, but rather used under the radar to shadow the United States in the event of a surprise EMP attack on the country. They should be placed under the command of an Admiral with the ability to command without any support from the mainland. The need for this is immanent, and being prepared for the unthinkable is best done before the shock of the matter! Our enemies are hard at work making and designing missiles that can take out our Carrier Groups. It is for this reason that these battle groups must remain hidden in non strategic area's not of interest to any party. It is our carelessness and pride that will take this country down, it is the American spirit of Life, Liberty and Justice Under God that will save us in the end if we are to be saved.

    June 30, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  28. EA Marco Polo

    The world needs an apology and compensation from the US government. The US government is bullying her own citizens and other countries' people. Our privacy is violated; it is a serious issue on violating human right and freedom . The US government is making surveillance on me or other commentators in CNN?

    June 30, 2013 at 7:12 am |
  29. Keith

    Easy – tell Putin that the US will cease all aid to Syrian rebels. Putin will hand over Snowden fast.

    June 30, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  30. Yuck

    Look Putas face,he looks guilty

    June 30, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
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