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US shuts down Russian consulate in San Francisco

Washington,  (IANS) Russia has been given two days to close its consulate in San Francisco as well as diplomatic annexes in Washington and New York, the US State Department has said.

The move comes in response to the Kremlin’s decision last July to order the US to reduce by 755 the number of diplomats and diplomatic personnel working at the US Embassy in Moscow and at its consulates in St. Petersburg and other cities.

Moscow took that step, with which Washington must comply starting on September 1, to equalize the number of diplomats the US and Russia maintain in each other’s countries after a US reduction in Russian personnel late last year.

“We believe (Russia’s) action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement on Thursday, adding that the US had made its reciprocal move in the “spirit of parity”, Efe news reported.

“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,” she added.

Nauert said the US wants to avoid additional retaliatory measures by either side and work toward improving bilateral relations, but “the United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted”.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have become more tense since the Russian decision to reduce the US diplomatic presence in Russia.

On August 2, US President Donald Trump reluctantly signed a law imposing new sanctions on Russia, emphasizing his “concern” about doing so because it limited his power to lift those measures without Congressional approval.

The law, overwhelmingly approved by a bipartisan majority in the two chambers of Congress, includes sanctions affecting the Russian oil and mining industries in response to Moscow’s presumed interference in the 2016 presidential elections to harm Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who was ultimately defeated by Trump.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday to inform him of the US move, in response to which the Russian said that Moscow will study Washington’s order to close its San Francisco consulate before announcing how it would respond.

Russia’s top diplomat told Tillerson that he regretted the newly heightened tensions in the bilateral relationship, according to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

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