LONDON – The U.K. and Ecuador are at loggerheads over a letter in which the Latin American nation claims Britain threatened to "assault our embassy" if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not handed over. Britain's Foreign Office insists the letter was not a threat, saying that British diplomats were merely drawing the Ecuadoreans' attention to laws which allow London to strip a renegade foreign mission of a diplomatic status.
Britain's Foreign Office initially refused to release the letter to reporters, but has now published its translation of the note, which follows. The text has been lightly edited to fix punctuation and American English.
"We are aware, and surprised by media reports in the last 24 hours, that Ecuador is about to take a decision and proposes to grant asylum to Mr. Assange.
"The reports quote official sources.
"We note that the (Ecuadorean) President (Rafael Correa) has stated that no decision has yet been made.
"We are concerned, if true, that this might undermine our efforts to agree a joint text setting out the positions of both countries, allowing Mr. Assange to leave the Embassy.
"As we have previously set out, we must meet our legal obligations under the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision and the Extradition Act 2003, to arrest Mr. Assange and extradite him to Sweden. We remain committed to working with you amicably to resolve this matter. But we must be absolutely clear this means that should we receive a request for safe passage for Mr. Assange, after granting asylum, this would be refused, in line with our legal obligations.
"In that light, and given the statements of the last 24 hours, we hope that you are prepared to continue to engage with the ongoing diplomatic discussions. We continue to believe that a solution is possible on the basis of a jointly agreed text, which would accompany Mr. Assange exiting the Embassy, and leading to his extradition.
"We have a further meeting scheduled for Thursday 16th August. Given the statements made in Quito overnight, about an imminent decision, should we take it this meeting will be the final one to agree a joint text?
"We have to reiterate that we consider continued use of diplomatic premises in this way, to be incompatible with the VCDR (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) and not sustainable, and that we have already made clear to you the serious implications for our diplomatic relations.
"You should be aware that there is a legal basis in the U.K. — the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act — which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr. Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.
"We very much hope not to get this point, but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr. Assange's presence on your premises, this route is open to us.
"We understand the importance to you of the issues raised by Mr. Assange, and the strong public pressure in country. But we still have to resolve the situation on the ground, here in the U.K., in line with our legal obligations. We have endeavored to develop a joint text, which helps both meet your concerns, and presentational needs.
"We believe a joint text and a voluntary surrender by Mr. Assange is the best way forward."