After more than five years as a houseguest, Ecuador wants Julian Assange out of its London embassy – and is considering mediation with Britain to do so, the country’s foreign minister said Tuesday.
“We're considering and exploring the possibility of a mediation,” Maria Fernanda Espinosa told reporters in Quito. “A person cannot live in those conditions forever.”
The status of the 46-year-old Australian, keenly sought by U.S. authorities for a string of leaks including classified military war logs, State Department cables and Democratic National Committee emails, has long been a subject of contention between Ecuador and British authorities.
Assange has been holed up in the embassy in the wealthy London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge since he claimed political asylum in 2012, going on to entertain a string of celebrity visitors there including Pamela Anderson, Lady Gaga, and MIA.
At the time he faced potential extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault against two women. Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation in May last year, but Assange says he still fears extradition to the U.S. if he leaves embassy grounds.
Despite Sweden’s disinterest, London’s Metropolitan Police says Assange will be arrested if he sets foot on British soil for his failure to surrender to the court back in 2012. London has also refused to guarantee he won’t be handed over to U.S. authorities.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in May that Assange’s arrest was a priority.
Fernanda Espinosa told reporters finding a way out of the impasse could potentially involve a “third country or personality.” “No solution will be achieved without international cooperation and the cooperation of the United Kingdom, which has also shown interest in seeking a way out.”
But while a lawyer for Assange appeared to welcome Ecuador’s stance, the British government appeared unmoved by the proposition.
“The government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” a spokesman said.
A United Nations panel ruled in 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily detained, and should be allowed by British authorities to leave the embassy and be compensated for his situation, but British authorities rejected the ruling.