Would Sweden Ever Extradite Assange to the United States?

Two years into his stay at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he is hiding from Swedish authorities looking to question him in connection with rape allegations, Julian Assange will leave his diplomatic redoubt "soon," he revealed on Monday. Cryptic as ever, the Australian freedom-of-information activist did not explain why, nor exactly when he would depart the embassy.

Assange's comments, made alongside Ecuador's foreign minister, mean that he might finally be questioned by Swedish prosecutors about allegations that he raped one woman and molested another in 2010. No charges have been filed against Assange, 43; but there is a warrant to bring him in for questioning. Assange says the allegations are false and part of a plot to extradite him to the United States, where a secret grand jury has reportedly been impaneled to consider unspecified charges against him.

Is Assange's conspiracy theory correct? And would Sweden extradite him?

Highly doubtful. Sweden's extradition agreement with the United States, signed in 1961 and updated in 1983, prohibits extradition on the basis of "a political offense" or "an offense connected with a political offense." The agreement does not specify what constitutes a "political offense." Whether the Swedish supreme court would rule to extradite Assange largely depends on what charges the secret U.S. grand jury brings against him.

If Assange is accused of espionage, Sweden most certainly would not comply, as its courts have consistently determined that espionage constitutes a political offense. For example, in 1992 Sweden refused to extradite Edward Lee Howard, the only CIA agent to defect to the Soviet Union, to the United States. Charged with espionage, Swedish courts ruled that those accusations amounted to the kind of "political offense" specified in the extradition agreement.

But that legal gray area also threatens Assange's legal prospects. The U.S. Justice Department is surely aware of these restrictions and precedents and may instead slap Assange with a more creative set of charges -- cyber crime or theft, perhaps.

He would still have some recourse under the Swedish legal system, however. When Assange first went into hiding, Foreign Policy discussed his case with UIf Wallentheim, the director of the division for criminal cases and international judicial cooperation at the Swedish Ministry of Justice. He said that Swedish courts tend to see through such ploys to circumvent Swedish extradition agreements' exceptions. Swedish judges often examine a case's underlying factors when making their determinations, he said.

But Assange could be more afraid of a snatch-and-grab CIA operation. In 2002, Sweden collaborated with the United States in the extraordinary rendition of two Egyptians seeking asylum. That example is often seen as indicative of what even left-wing Scandinavian governments will do when pressured by the United States in such cases.

But a covert operation is all but unthinkable given Sweden's political environment. Next month, Swedes head to the polls for parliamentary elections in which they are expected to vote the center-right government out of office. Trailing in the polls to a left-wing coalition, the government would be throwing a bone to its rivals by rolling out the red carpet for the CIA. The Social Democrats, who are likely to lead the next government, are equally unlikely to OK a U.S. operation to whisk Assange into an American courtroom.

According to the British media, Assange is not in good health. He's also supposedly seeking a resolution with U.K. authorities to leave his self-imposed jail. Citing a WikiLeaks source, the tabloid Mail on Sunday reported that Assange is "suffering from the potentially life-threatening heart condition arrhythmia and has a chronic lung complaint and dangerously high blood pressure." Nonetheless, British authorities are supposedly adamant about enforcing the warrant against him.

"We are clear that our laws must be followed, and Mr. Assange should be extradited to Sweden.… As ever, we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and costly, situation to an end," a government spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal. The U.K. has spent some $10 million on a 24-hour police presence outside the embassy.

Perhaps the time has come for Assange to roll the dice in the Swedish courts.

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No Sakebombs for Abe and Putin

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, the world wondered what the Kremlin would do next. On Tuesday, all eyes looked to the Pacific as it launched military exercises in the disputed Kuril Islands. In response, Tokyo called the drills "totally unacceptable," shifting away from the possibility of rapprochement that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was seeking.

Abe had been forging closer ties with Moscow than his predecessors in hopes of reaching an agreement on the contested islands. Russia offered Abe a major diplomatic scoring opportunity at a time when the Japanese prime minister's nationalistic tendencies were threatening to isolate him and his nation in the region. Since becoming prime minister in 2012, Abe and Putin have met five times -- though their countries are still technically fighting World War II -- to mend fences.

Abe recently ruffled his neighbors' feathers when he sought to alter the Japanese constitution so that his country could protect itself militarily. That looked like a nationalistic move to regional powers and further chilled its already frosty relations with China and North Korea. "Putin has cozied up to China but also feels vulnerable in the Pacific," Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian Studies at Temple University, said. "A mutual partnership is a useful hedging strategy for both Japan and Russia."

But Russia's latest foray could undercut Abe's diplomatic progress with Moscow and leave Tokyo exposed in a region where it has fewer friends than ever.

"The fact that Russia began military exercises in the disputed islands is symbolically very big," said Yuki Tatsumi, a senior associate at the Stimson Center, a D.C.-based think tank. "Russia seems to be testing how Japan would respond ... "This puts Tokyo in a bind with China too. If Abe responds weakly, China may see this as an opening to ratchet up its own dispute with Japan over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea."

Japan has been keen to access Russian oil, gas, and coal over the years, but especially since nuclear power plants were shut down after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. "Japan has to consider its own domestic needs," said Emily Stromquist, an energy analyst at the political risk consultancy, Eurasia Group. "One of which is controlling the rising cost of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) imports." In 2013, Russia supplied approximately 10 percent of Japan's LNG supply and 7 percent of its oil, according to Eurasia Group. A peace treaty between Moscow and Tokyo would allow massive Japanese investment in Russian energy resources, ensuring a more diversified supply.

But the shifting geopolitical environment pulled the rug out from Abe's plans and left Japan walking a diplomatic tightrope between Moscow and Washington. As a country disputing territory with Russia and as a key partner of the United States', Japan had to condemn Russia's actions in Crimea. But Tokyo's response has been largely symbolic, confined to a few minor exports, such as Crimean wine. Just days before it seemed that Abe's strategy was working. On Aug. 7, Russian exempted Japan from the Kremlin's retaliatory sanctions against the West, leaving a deal over the Kuril islands on the table. That was whisked away Tuesday when Moscow mobilized 1,000 troops for military drills on two of the four contested islands.