Update (5:10 p.m. EDT): President Correa denied The Guardian's report on his Twitter stream Tuesday, saying it was a rumor and "there is no decision." Russia Today also reported that "a representative of the Correa administration in Ecuador confirmed to RT by phone that no official decision has been made on whether to grant Assange asylum." Correa had said on Monday that he hoped to make an official decision this week.
Original: Ecuador plans to make things official with Julian Assange, granting the WikiLeaks founder political asylum after he fled to its embassy in London, sources told The Guardian's Irene Caselli on Tuesday, but there's one significant problem before he gains his freedom: He has to get to Ecuador.
Assange, who had been ordered to spend his nights at the house of a London-area supporter while fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in June and has been living there ever since. While the embassy counts as sovereign Ecuadorian soil in London, it's surrounded by, well, British soil, upon which Assange will be arrested as soon as he sets foot, because he violated the terms of his bail. "For Mr. Assange to leave England he should have a safe pass from the British (government). Will that be possible? That's an issue we have to take into account," Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told Reuters' Jose Llangari Tuesday.
Just the fact that Ecuador finally agreed to take him in should be some kind of relief for Assange, who's been cultivating a relationship with Ecuador for the past year and a half, The Guardian's Caselli reports from Quito, in Ecuador. For a minute there, it looked like Ecuador was getting cold feet as it missed a deadline to say whether it would grant Assange asylum. Assange had Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa on his talk show in April, and one official told Caselli that Ecuador supported Assange over the objection of the British, Swedish, and United States governments. The United States would eventually like to question him about the diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010. Per Caselli:
The official added: "We see Assange's request as a humanitarian issue. The contact between the Ecuadorean government and WikiLeaks goes back to May 2011, when we became the first country to see the leaked US embassy cables completely declassified ... It is clear that when Julian entered the embassy there was already some sort of deal. We see in his work a parallel with our struggle for national sovereignty and the democratisation of international relations."
But as The New York Times points out in its topic page for Assange, "If Ecuador accepts his application, Mr. Assange will have to make a literal sprint for South America, evading the hands of the British police in the vast tract of city between Knightsbridge and any international flight." To give you an idea of what that might look like, here's a map of the embassy and three London airports, with Heathrow International Airport at the far west:
View Ecuadorian Embassy in a larger map