International

Washington tells Russia to close consulate, buildings in US

russia

WASHINGTON: The United States has told Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two annex buildings in Washington and New York, the State Department said on Thursday, a response to Moscow last month ordering cuts in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia.

The announcement was the latest in tit-for-tat measures between the two countries that have helped to drive relations to a new post-Cold War low, thwarting hopes on both sides that they might improve after U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January.

Last month Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people, after Congress overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against Russia.

The sanctions were imposed in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and to punish Russia further for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

“We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Thursday.

“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,” Nauert said. “These closures will need to be accomplished by September 2.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed regret during a phone call with his U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson about Washington’s decision, his ministry said.

“Moscow will closely study the new measures announced by the Americans, after which our reaction will be conveyed,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

To cope with the reduction in staff in Russia, the United States said last week it would have to sharply scale back visa services, a move that will hit Russian business travelers, tourists and students.

The Russian consulate in San Francisco handles work from seven states in the Western United States. There are three other Russian consulates separate from the embassy in Washington. They are in New York, Seattle and Houston.

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