The State Department fired what it hopes will be the last shot in the ongoing diplomatic spat with Russia, demanding the nearly immediate closure of three Russian diplomatic facilities in San Francisco, Washington, and New York.
The move was a response to Russia’s decision to expel 755 U.S. diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Russia is fuming over a sanctions regime Congress approved in July in response to election interference. President Trump reluctantly signed the bill into law.
The U.S. demanded the closures ”in the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians,’ according to a statement released by the State Department Thursday.
‘It’s our hope that with this move in the direction of parity, which the Russians said they were seeking, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both side,’ a senior U.S. official told reporters Thursday. ‘Our goal is really to find a way to get to better relations between our two countries.’
The State Department is demanding the nearly immediate closure of three Russian diplomatic facilities in San Francisco, Washington, and New York
The facilities to close are a San Francisco consulate, a private residence in the Bay area, an annex in Washington and one in New York.
San Francisco has large population of Russian immigrants who would be affected. The consulate there is Russia’s oldest in the U.S. and most established.
With its closure, the U.S. and Russia are evenly matched, with three consulates each in the other’s country.
A U.S. official said Thursday that Vladimir Putin’s government maintains more annexes in the United States even after the forced closures than Foggy Bottom controls in Russia.
Russia will be allowed to operate the others as a gesture the U.S. hopes will ‘arrest the downward spiral in our relationship,’ the official said during a call with news outlets on the decision.
Moscow ordered a steep reduction in U.S. diplomatic staff by September 1.
The State Department said the action was ‘unwarranted’ and responded in kind.
Unlike the Kremlin, the U.S. is not expelling the Moscow diplomats who work at the closing properties. They’re free to relocate to another mission in the U.S. if that’s what the Kremlin wants.
The U.S. has also chosen not to seize the properties its closing. Russia can sell them the buildings or maintain them, if Putin likes.
Russia may decide to hold onto the properties. A warmer shift in relations could lead to a reopening of the consulate, especially. The senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters said the closures don’t have to be permanent. They could be revoked if Putin shows a willingness to address U.S. concerns.
‘I think you all know the reasons why we took those steps. It had to do with harassment of our diplomats and interference in our domestic affairs, in our elections, so I think those actions spoke for themselves,’ the official said of the actions Russia took to earn a rebuke from the U.S. in the first place.
‘I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO’: The U.S. ordered the closure of three Russian facilities, including the Consulate-General of Russia in San Francisco
Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of State, speaks during a meeting with Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, not pictured, at the State Department in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017
President Donald Trump signed into law new sanctions on Russia even as he complained about it
According to the State Department’s statement issued Thursday: ‘The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia. We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.’
‘In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring 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 will need to be accomplished by September 2,’ the statement said.
‘With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each. While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian Government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.’
ROAD TRIP: U.S. Embassy officials leave their estate in Moscow’s Serebryany Bor Park as they are no longer allowed by Russia’s Foreign Ministry to use it starting from August 1, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the departure of hundreds of U.S. diplomats from Russia
President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017
It added: ‘The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern. The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.’
After Trump signed the sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a cut of about 60 percent of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1. He also said Moscow would take over a summer villa used by U.S. embassy staff.
A U.S. official refused to confirm on Thursday how many diplomats it had previously in Russia while affirming that the Trump administration would comply with Putin’s demands.
The American diplomats will be reassigned to other missions in the U.S. the official said, reiterating on the call that President Donald Trump was being ‘sarcastic’ when he thanked Putin for a forced cut to the State Department’s payroll.
Shortly before he left office, President Obama kicked Russians out of compounds in New York and Maryland in retaliation for what the U.S. intelligence community concluded was interference in the U.S. presidential election.
The Russians persistently complained about the loss of their getaway locations, which the administration said were used for spying.