British government enters 'formal communication' with Ecuador on Assange

British government enters 'formal communication' with Ecuador on Assange

The British government has written to the Ecuadorian embassy in London to resume talks about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the building for the past two months.

The British Foreign Office confirmed a "formal communication" had been sent to diplomats from the South American country which granted the Australian political asylum last week, but would not reveal the contents.

Mr Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over claims of sexual assault but is refusing to travel to Scandinavia amid fears he will be extradited to the United States over his controversial website.

The UK government has made it clear Mr Assange, who denies the allegations, will be arrested if he steps outside of the embassy after jumping bail.

Ecuador's president said the diplomatic row "could be ended tomorrow" if Britain gave the activist safe passage to South America.

Rafael Correa told the BBC: "This could end tomorrow if the UK grants safe passage, or it could go on for months and years if Mr Assange can't leave the embassy of Ecuador in London."

Ecuador yesterday expressed optimism that a "compromise" could be reached with the UK and called for fresh talks over Mr Assange's future.

It also urged the Government to drop threats, made under a 1987 Act, to enter the embassy and arrest the 41-year-old.

At a briefing inside the Ecuadorian residence, an official said: "The best thing to do is for the Government to withdraw the threat.

"The Foreign Office has been contacting many South American countries in the past week indicating they wanted to open conversations again with the Ecuador government - but they have made no approach."

The official said withdrawing the threat to enter the embassy was not a condition of talks being held, but it would be an "indication of good faith".

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said there was no intention to "storm" the central London building, but Ecuador has insisted that Mr Assange can stay there for "as long as it takes" to resolve his future.

"He can stay here for eight years… two centuries. However long he wants," said one diplomat.

Foreign ministers from across South America will meet later today to discuss the situation.

Ambassadors from several South American countries went to the Ecuadorian embassy in London today.

A spokesman from the Ecuadorian embassy said: "This display of support for the Ecuadorian Government by South American ambassadors is a clear indication of the level of support Ecuador has amongst countries in America and a clear statement opposing the UK Government's threats against the integrity and sovereignty of its embassy in London."

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