About a month ago I asked a former colleague in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office what Hague saw as the endgame in the Julian Assange asylum standoff, and where the room for negotiation lay. My friend was dismissive – the policy was simply to wait for the Presidential election in Ecuador in February. The United States and allies were confident that Correa will lose, and my friend and I having both been senior diplomats for many years we understood what the United States would be doing to ensure that result. With Correa replaced by a pro-USA President, Assange’s asylum will be withdrawn, the Metropolitan Police invited in to the Embassy of Ecuador to remove him, and Assange sent immediately to Sweden from where he could be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage and aiding terrorism.
I have been struck by the naivety of those who ask why the United States could not simply request Assange’s extradition from the United Kingdom. The answer is simple – the coalition government. Extradition agreements are government to government international treaties, and the decision on their implementation is ultimately political and governmental – that is why it was Teresa May and not a judge who took the final and very different political decisions on Babar Ahmad and Gary Mackinnon.
CIA supporters in the UK have argued vociferously that it would be impossible for Sweden to give Assange the assurance he would not be extradited to the United States, with which he would be prepared to return to Sweden to see off the rather pathetic attempted fit-up there. In fact, as extradition agreements are governmental not judicial instruments, it would be perfectly possible for the Swedish government to give that assurance. Those who argue otherwise, like Gavin Essler and Joan Smith here, are not being truthful – I suspect their very vehemence indicates that they know that.
Most Liberal Democrat MPs are happy to endorse the notion that Assange should be returned to Sweden to face sexual accusations. However even the repeatedly humiliated Lib Dem MPs would revolt at the idea that Assange should be sent to face life imprisonment in solitary confinement in the United States for the work of Wikileaks. That is why the United States has held off requesting extradition from the United Kingdom, to avoid the trouble this would cause Cameron. I am not speculating, there have been direct very senior diplomatic exchanges on this point between Washington and London.
There was confidence that the Correa problem would soon pass, but the State Department has since been shocked by the return of Hugo Chavez. Like Correa, senior US diplomats had convinced themselves – and convinced La Clinton – that Chavez was going to lose. The fury at Chavez’s return has led to a diktat that the same mistake must not be made in Ecuador.
CIA operations inside Ecuador are in any case much less disrupted than in Venezuela. I learn that the US budget, using mostly Pentagon funds, devoted to influencing the Ecuadorean election has, since the Venezuelan result, been almost tripled to US $87 million. This will find its way into opposition campaign coffers and be used to fund, bribe or blackmail media and officials. Expect a number of media scandals and corruption stings against Correa’s government in the next few weeks.
I do not have much background on Ecuadorean politics and I really do not know what Correa’s chances of re-election are. Neither do I know if any of the opposition parties are decent and not in the hands of the USA. But I do know that the USA very much want Correa to lose, were very confident that he was going to lose, and now are not. From their point of view, the danger is that in upping the ante, their efforts will become so obvious they will backfire in a nationalist reaction. My US source however is adamant that the Obama adminstration will not actually use the funds to incite another military coup attempt against Correa. That has apparently been ruled out. Assange being expelled into the arms of the CIA by a newly installed military dictatorship might be a difficult sell even for our appalling mainstream media.