WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of making “wild assertions” about an alleged U.S. vendetta against him to deflect attention from rape allegations he faces in Sweden.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland dismissed Assange’s latest broadside, which he delivered on Sunday from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London where he has sought refuge from arrest.
“He is making all kinds of wild assertions about us,” Nuland told a news briefing, saying Assange’s current legal problems stemmed from allegations of sexual misconduct and were unrelated to the WikiLeaks case.
“He is clearly trying to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden, which is the immediate issue. So that case has nothing to do with us. It’s a matter between the UK, Sweden, and now Ecuador has inserted itself,” Nuland said.
Assange on Sunday demanded that President Barack Obama end what he called a witch hunt against his whistle-blowing website, speaking from the Ecuadorean mission to avoid being detained by British police who want to extradite him to Sweden for questioning about rape allegations by two women.
Ecuador’s socialist president, Rafael Correa, a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy, granted the former computer hacker political asylum last week, deepening a diplomatic standoff with Britain and Sweden.
Nuland referred questions about any potential future U.S. legal action against Assange to the Justice Department but said he would not face “persecution” in the United States.
Nuland also accused Ecuador of seeking to stir up trouble at the Organization of American States (OAS), where supporters of Correa’s government have called for a foreign ministers’ meeting on the Assange affair.
“We don’t think that’s an appropriate forum,” Nuland said. “We have very important business that we do in the OAS that has to do with the strength and health and democracy in the region, and this is, frankly, a sideshow.”
Assange, 41, who has been in Ecuador’s London embassy since June, incensed the United States and its allies by using his WikiLeaks website to leak hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic and military cables in 2010, disclosures that often embarrassed Washington.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Bill Trott