It was a warning meant to remind Ecuador that Britain's patience has limits. But as the stalemate over Julian Assange settled in Friday, it appeared London's veiled threat that it could storm Ecuador's embassy and drag Assange out has backfired — drawing supporters to the mission where the WikiLeaks founder is holed up and prompting angry denunciations from Ecuador and elsewhere.
Experts and ex-diplomats say Britain's Foreign Office, which warned Ecuador of a little known law that would allow it to side-step usual diplomatic protocols, messed up by issuing a threat it couldn't back up.
"It was a big mistake," said former British ambassador Oliver Miles. "It puts the British government in the position of asking for something illegitimate."
Extradition expert Julian Knowles said that said British officials could arrest Assange once the diplomatic and media ferment faded.
"I think they'll take the view that within a few days or weeks it will all blow over," he said.
The U.S. state department chimed in with this: "The United States is not a party to the 1954 OAS Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law."
This will no doubt come as a shock to Chinese human rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng, who fled to the US embassy in Beijing after evading house arrest and beatings in May.