Trump administration orders three Russian diplomatic facilities in US closed – Washington Post

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The Trump administration has ordered three Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States closed following the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia, the State Department said Thursday.

Last month, Russia demanded that the U.S. diplomatic presence there be reduced by hundreds of people. In retaliation, the State Department has ordered the Russian government to close its consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures must be complete by Saturday.

The diplomatic reprisals underscore the continued deterioration of relations between the ­nuclear-armed nations, with more acts of payback to come. And they appear to place President Trump’s hope for closer ties with Russia farther out of reach.

The Trump administration has struggled at times to send a consistent message to the Kremlin. Some White House aides appeared to support Russia’s desire to have sanctions lifted early in the administration, but Trump ended up signing legislation in July slapping new punitive sanctions on Russia over election meddling. The State Department expressed disappointment when Russia expelled U.S. diplomats, but Trump made light of the situation, thanking Russian President Vladi­mir Putin “because we’re trying to cut down on payroll.”

On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted the White House wants to “halt the downward spiral” between the countries.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Russian diplomatic facilities in San Francisco, D.C. and New York must be closed by Sept. 2. (Reuters)

“We’re going to look for opportunities to do that, but we’re also going to make sure that we make decisions that are best for our country,” Sanders said.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s newly named ambassador to Washington, cautioned against any “outbursts” on either side.

“Now we need to sort this out calmly, very calmly, and act in a professional manner,” Antonov said, according to the state-run TASS news agency. “My comrades and I will fulfill our work in a professional manner.”

Experts said it was likely that Russia would respond to the latest U.S. action, potentially by shuttering specific parts of the U.S. diplomatic mission like one of its consulates or other annexes.

“Then it will be up to the United States to react or not to react, but I hope that after this we will finally put this full stop in this cycle of action and counteraction and at least try to manage our relationship,” said Dmitry Suslov, a program director for the Valdai International Discussion Club in Moscow.

When Russia expelled U.S. diplomats this summer, it said it was retaliating for new U.S. sanctions and the seizure of two Russian compounds in the United States. The Kremlin said its response sought “parity” in the number of diplomats from each country working in the other, but it was read as a clear sign that Putin had written off chances of a rapprochement under Trump.

“The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

How Trump is changing America’s foreign policy

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said relations are at their worst point since the Cold War and that national security demands that the United States try to improve them, but the Trump administration has shown no real success.

Russia’s role in the 2016 election also hangs over the latest back and forth. The United States claims that Russia meddled in the election with the goal of harming Democrat Hillary Clinton and helping Trump, a Republican businessman who had openly admired Putin and said he hoped for improved ties.

Russia denies interference and Trump denies any collusion. A special counsel and congressional panels are investigating, complicating the political climate for any U.S. outreach.

Putin hoped that Trump’s arrival in the White House would offer a fresh start — in particular a reversal of economic sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Additional sanctions and the expulsion of some Russian diplomats came in response to a U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia had attempted to influence the November election.

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