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U.S., EU To Talk Trade Amid Spy Furor

President Raul Castro did not say whether Cuba would offer asylum to Edward Snowden.
The European Union and the United States are due to open negotiations on the creation of what would be the world’s biggest free-trade zone.

The talks, to open on July 8 in Washington, come amid friction between the two allies over revelations by fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden of American spying on EU diplomatic offices and computer networks.

EU concerns about the U.S. spying are expected to be raised in Washington in parallel with the trade talks.

The negotiations aim to remove barriers to trade and investment between the two powers, with the goal of agreeing on a deal by late 2014.

Negotiators will be seeking to overcome obstacles including restrictions on certain protected industries, such as defense contracting in the United States and EU bans on genetically modified food products.

Trade in goods between the United States and the EU in 2012 was worth some 500 billion euros ($650 billion), with hundreds of billions more in services and investments.

A free-trade area would encompass some 800 million residents.

The trade talks are going forward despite a furor over disclosures by Snowden about U.S. spying on global telecommunications and Internet networks.

The disclosures have raised concerns in the EU about violations of data protection rules and privacy rights.

The 30-year-old Snowden is believed to have spent the past two weeks in hiding in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport.

Cuban President Raul Castro said he supported offers from Latin American nations to give asylum to Snowden.

Venezuela and Bolivia have recently made asylum offers to Snowden, while Nicaragua is considering an asylum request.

However, in a speech to Cuba’s National Assembly, Castro did not say whether Cuba would offer asylum or allow Snowden to travel safely through the communist-led nation.

The Russian carrier Aeroflot flies directly multiple times each week to Havana, and reports have speculated that Snowden might have to fly through Cuba to reach a Latin American destination.

But any flight also risks being grounded by a third country.

Castro also denounced the United States for allegedly threatening other countries against working with Snowden to help him find asylum.

U.S. authorities have charged Snowden with espionage and theft of government property over the secret material he collected and disclosed to newspapers.

Washington has revoked the U.S. passport of the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and called for him to be handed over for prosecution.

Snowden has reportedly applied for asylum in upward of 20 countries but has been rejected by several European countries as well as India and Brazil.

Aleksei Pushkov, the head of the Russian State Duma parliament’s international affairs committee, has urged Snowden to accept Venezuela's offer of asylum.

Pushkov posted a message on Twitter saying: "Venezuela is waiting for an answer from Snowden. This, perhaps, is his last chance to receive political asylum."

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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