British police officers stand guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London, Aug. 16, 2012. / AP
(CBS/AP) QUITO, Ecuador - In the two months since Julian Assange ducked into Ecuador's London embassy to seek political asylum, President Rafael Correa has been consistently deferential to Britain while insisting on his right to protect what he sees as a free speech advocate facing persecution.
Asked earlier this week if he felt solidarity with the WikiLeaks founder, Ecuador's leftist president told a TV interviewer "of course, but we also feel solidarity for England and for English and international law."
The decision on Assange's petition, which his government said it would announce Thursday, would come only after careful scrutiny of the law and consultations with the governments involved, Correa insisted. And after London's Olympics fest was over.
On Wednesday, the cordiality ended.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino accused Britain of threatening to "assault our embassy" if Assange was not handed over.
A storming of Ecuador's embassy would be interpreted as "hostile and intolerable and, as well, an attempt on our sovereignty which would oblige us to respond with the greatest diplomatic force," he said.
British authorities have said repeatedly they will arrest Assange the minute he leaves the embassy. CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports the British Foreign Office merely reminded Ecuadorian officials that it was within its power to "reclaim" embassy property if necessary.
London had warned Ecuador earlier in the day that a 1987 British law permits it to revoke the diplomatic status of a building if the foreign power occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post."
Its Foreign Office said later in statement that it is Britain's "obligation to extradite Mr. Assange."
The New York Times reported Thursday, citing officials in Quito, that Ecuador was prepared to allow Assange to remain indefinitely at the London embassy, out of the reach of British law enforcement.
The former Australian hacker, who incensed U.S. government officials by publishing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghan war dispatches in 2010, took refuge in the embassy on June 19 to avoid extradition to Sweden. He faces questioning there for alleged sexual misconduct and had exhausted all appeals after a 17-month legal battle.
As news broke of the British warning on Wednesday, police were seen reinforcing Scotland Yard's presence at the embassy, which occupies a first-floor apartment in a district near the Harrods department store.
A small group of Assange supporters later gathered outside.
In statement, WikiLeaks accused Britain of trying to bully Ecuador into denying Assange asylum.
"A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances, and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide," it said.
As Thursday dawned in London, there was no sign police might try to enter the embassy.
British officials have vowed not to grant Assange safe passage out of their country. They say they will arrest him the moment he steps foot outside the embassy.
But they had not publicly suggested they might strip the embassy of its diplomatic inviolability.