US shutters Russia's San Francisco consulate in retaliation, Russia 'regrets' order

2017-08-31 22:21


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Washington — In an escalating tit-for-tat, the United States forced Russia on Thursday to shutter its consulate in San Francisco and scale back its diplomatic presence in Washington and New York, as relations between the two former Cold War foes continued to unravel.

The Trump administration said the move constituted its response to the Kremlin's "unwarranted and detrimental" decision to force the US to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia. Under the order, Russia must close its San Francisco consulate by Saturday, along with Russia's "chancery annex" in Washington and a "consular annex" in New York.

"The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. Still, she said the US hoped both countries could now move toward "improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday expressed "regret at the escalation of tensions". 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Lavrov as Washington announced it was ordering Moscow to shut the consulate, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"In response the minister expressed regret at the escalation of tensions in bilateral relations," it said.

"Moscow will examine the new measures announced by the Americans in detail after which our reaction will be announced."

"The Consulate General will act in accordance with the decision that will be taken by the Russian leadership regarding this decision by the Americans," the consul in San Francisco Sergei Petrov told RIA-Novosti news agency.

"Right now the foreign ministry will decide on the procedure of the shut down, where people will go, and so forth," he said.

Earlier this month, the Kremlin retaliated for stepped-up US sanctions on Russia by announcing the US would have to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people. During meetings in the Philippines shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left open the possibility the US, in turn, would retaliate for that move, and promised Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a formal response by September 1.

The US has said as a result, it will stop issuing visas at its consulates in Russia in cities other than Moscow. A senior US official said on Thursday that the US reduction of diplomatic staff is complete.

Nevertheless, the United States argued that the score has been evened, urging Russia not to retaliate for the retaliation. US officials pointed out that Russia, when it ordered the cut in US diplomats, had argued it was merely bringing the size of the two countries' diplomatic presences into "parity".

"The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation's desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides," Nauert said.

Russia has had a diplomatic presence in San Francisco since 1852, according to the consulate's website. It closed in 1924 because of a lack of funds but reopened in 1934 after Washintgon established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

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