MOSCOW -- Edward Snowden emerged from weeks of hiding in a Moscow airport Friday, still defiant but willing to stop leaking secrets about U.S. surveillance programs if Russia will give him asylum until he can move on to Latin America.
Snowden's meeting with Russian officials and rights activists cleared up uncertainty about where the former National Security Agency systems analyst is, but left open the big question: What comes next?
Snowden said he was ready to meet President Vladimir Putin's condition that he stop leaking secrets if it means Russia would give him shelter that could eventually help him get to Latin America. There was no immediate response from Putin's office, but speakers of both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament spoke in support of Snowden's plea.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, a senior lawmaker with the main Kremlin party, described Snowden as "a bit nervous but smiling" and noted his "perfect haircut."
Snowden is believed to have been stuck in the airport's transit zone since his June 23 arrival from Hong Kong, where he had gone before his revelations were made public. He booked a seat on a Cuba-bound flight the next day, but did not get on the plane and had was out of the public eye until Friday.
Putin said Snowden stayed in the transit zone and thus technically didn't cross the Russian border. He also insisted Russian special services haven't contacted the NSA leaker -- a claim that drew skeptical winks from some security analysts who noted Russian intelligence agencies would be eager to learn the secrets in his possession.
Sergei Nikitin of Amnesty International's Moscow office said plainclothes men who looked like officers of Russian special services attended the meeting, which was held in a cordoned section of a corridor. The exact location was unclear as journalists were left in a hallway outside the meeting area behind a grey door marked "staff only."
Human Rights Watch's Tanya Lokshina posted a photo of Snowden at the event on her Facebook page, the first new image of him since the Guardian broke the story of widespread U.S. Internet surveillance based on his leaks.
A brief video of the meeting's opening appeared on Russian news site Life News, showing Snowden speaking, then being interrupted by an announcement on the airport's public address system.
"I've heard that a lot in the past weeks," Snowden said, smiling.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua recently have offered Snowden asylum, but it is unclear if he could fly to any of those countries from Moscow without passing through the airspace of the United States or its allies.
Although Friday's meeting left Snowden's fate still uncertain, it at least confirmed where he was; speculation had swirled that he had been spirited out of the country.
-- The Associated Press