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2 rights officials in Russia plan to meet Snowden

MOSCOW (AP) — Two prominent Russian human rights officials say they plan to meet on Friday with Edward Snowden, the leaker of U.S. National Security Agency secrets, after receiving an invitation calling them to Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport.

Snowden is believed to have been stuck in the airport's transit zone since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23, as he negotiates for asylum in another country.

Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International's Russia office, told The Associated Press he will go to the meeting, but declined to give details. Tatiana Lokshina, deputy head of the Russian office of Human Rights Watch, was quoted by the news agency Interfax as saying she also would go.

On Facebook, Lokshina posted the text of an email purportedly from Snowden that she received Thursday. The text says Snowden wants to make "a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation."

It does not directly address the offers of asylum that Snowden has received from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, though it expresses gratitude for asylum offers and says "I hope to travel to each of them." It accuses the United States of "an unlawful campaign ... to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum."

Russian news reports said the invitation was also sent to local officials of Transparency International, an organization that tracks corruption in governments and industries, and the U.N. refugee agency. Those organizations could not immediately be reached for comment.

Genri Reznik, a prominent lawyer and head of the Moscow bar association, also said he was invited and would try to attend. He was quoted by Interfax as saying he expected Snowden called for the meeting in order to seek asylum in Russia.

Snowden made an earlier application for Russian asylum. But Russian President Vladimir Putin said asylum would be conditional on Snowden stopping leaking U.S. secrets; Snowden then withdrew his asylum bid, Russian officials said.

How much the human rights organizations could influence a Russian asylum bid or other aspects of Snowden's dilemma is unclear. Putin takes a dim view of non-governmental organizations' involvement in political matters.

But an appeal by Snowden to internationally respected groups could boost his status and give Russia a pretext for reconsidering asylum.

Snowden has not been seen in public since arriving in Moscow from Hong Kong, where he had fled before his leaks about American Internet surveillance were made public. Russia has said it cannot extradite him because by remaining in the transit zone he is technically outside Russian territory.

Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have said they would be willing to grant asylum to Snowden. But it is unclear if Snowden could fly from Moscow to any of those countries without passing through the airspace of the United States or allied countries.

There were no immediate indications of whether news media would have access to the proposed meeting. The invitation calls for the organization representatives to gather at one of the airport's terminals, then be escorted through security.