Syria edges ex-contractor Snowden out of Putin, Obama talk

By Susan Heavey and Douglas Busvine

WASHINGTON/ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama did not discuss Edward Snowden during their talks on Friday, despite the United States' pending extradition request for the former spy agency contractor.

Both Putin and Obama said Snowden, who is living under temporary asylum in Russia, did not come up during the two leaders' sit-down meeting that lasted nearly half an hour at a Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg and was dominated by talk on the Syrian crisis.

"Mr. Snowden did not come up beyond me saying that - re-emphasizing that where we have common interests, I think it's important for the two of us to work together," Obama said in a news conference following the G20's conclusion.

"We discussed Syria, and that was primarily the topic of conversation," he told reporters.

Obama had earlier called off a separate Moscow meeting with Putin after Russia granted Snowden asylum last month. At the G20, however, Syria dominated the Putin-Obama meeting, pushing Snowden out of the discussion.

Snowden had worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency before fleeing first to Hong Kong and then Russia after revealing documents outlining vast American surveillance programs. He is wanted by U.S. authorities, who have charged him with espionage.

Putin, in his earlier remarks to reporters, said Obama did not request Snowden's extradition, but even if he had, extradition would be impossible because Snowden had not committed a crime in Russian territory.

"We exchange security officers who find themselves in a sticky situation abroad for those who are in jail here. This practice exists all over the world. But Snowden has not been convicted - he did not commit any crime here," Putin said at a news conference on Friday after the meeting.

"This is a different matter, it has nothing to do with espionage," he added.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Russia said in a media interview on Friday that the American embassy had tried to contact Snowden, but was rebuffed.

"We reached out, as we do to all Americans in distress in Russia," Michael McFaul told NBC News' Chuck Todd.

"Everything we know about him, of course, is from the Russian officials. But allegedly he did not want to meet with us," McFaul added in the interview, which aired on MSNBC.

"The offer's still open," he said.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine in St. Petersburg and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Vicki Allen)

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