Ministers to discuss Assange row

The diplomatic row over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to be discussed by foreign ministers from across the Americas next week.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) has voted to hold a meeting next Friday following Ecuador's decision to grant political asylum to Mr Assange, who is currently taking refuge in the South American country's embassy.

Mr Assange has described the move as a "historic victory" but Foreign Secretary William Hague made it clear that the Australian would not be allowed safe passage out of the country.

Mr Assange has been in the embassy for the past two months after facing extradition to Sweden accused of sexual assault. He denies the claims and fears being sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.

The permanent council of the OAS decided that a meeting would be held in Washington DC after members voted on the issue. The USA, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago opposed the resolution, but 23 members voted in favour of the meeting. There were five abstentions and three members were absent.

OAS secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza said the meeting would be about "the problem posed by the threat or warning made to Ecuador by the possibility of an intervention into its embassy in London".

He added: "What is being proposed is that the foreign ministers of our organisation address this subject and not the subject of asylum nor whether it should be granted to Mr Julian Assange. That will be discussed between Great Britain and Ecuador, the issue that concerns us is the inviolability of diplomatic missions of all members of this organisation, something that is of interest to all of us."

Ecuador's president Rafael Correa said in a radio interview on Friday that his nation was not trying to undermine Sweden's attempts to question Mr Assange. He said: "The main reason why Julian Assange was given diplomatic asylum was because his extradition to a third country was not guaranteed, in no way was it done to interrupt the investigations of Swedish justice over an alleged crime. In no way."

Mr Hague has said that diplomatic immunity should not be used to harbour alleged criminals. Mr Hague said it is a "matter of regret" that the Ecuadorian government granted the WikiLeaks founder political asylum but warned that it "does not change the fundamentals" of the case.

The case could go on for some "considerable" time, Mr Hague said, adding: "We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so."