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31 Aug, 2017 16:18

US orders closure of Russian Consulate in San Francisco – State Department

The Russian Consulate in San Francisco, as well as two annex buildings in Washington and New York, will have to close by September 2, the US State Department announced in response to Moscow ordering the US to reduce its diplomatic personnel in Russia.

"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," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Thursday.

Stating that the measure comes “in the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians,” the US State Department said that now both countries will have three consulates each.

The decision was made by President Donald Trump personally, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in Washington on Thursday afternoon.

“We want to halt the downward spiral and we want to move forward towards better relations, we look for opportunities to do that, but we also want to have equity in the decisions… We’re also going to make sure that we make decisions that are best for our country,” Sanders told reporters.

Russia will still have more diplomatic and consular annexes than the US, a senior administration official told reporters earlier in a telephone briefing.

The closures will not lead to Russian diplomats being expelled, the official said, adding that diplomatic staff who have been assigned to the mission in San Francisco can be moved to other posts in the US.

Ownership of the closed facilities will be retained by Moscow, but Russia will not be allowed to carry out diplomatic activities there.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was informed of Washington’s latest move by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call. Lavrov "expressed regret over the escalation of tensions” in the relations between the two countries, which were not initiated by Russia.

Lavrov told his US counterpart that Moscow would "closely study" the new US measures and would then inform Washington of its reaction.

The Russian Consulate-General in San Francisco has called the decision “another unfriendly step of the US authorities, which, first of all, will hit hard on Russian citizens residing in the consular district, as well as on American citizens.”

“We would like to emphasize that in 2016, the Consulate-General issued more than 16 thousand tourist visas for American citizens. Closure of the Consulate-General will create certain difficulties in the preparation of documents for this category of Americans,” the Consulate’s statement reads.

Russia's consul-general in San Francisco, Sergey Petrov, said Washington's decision will harm both Russian and American citizens living in the US region.

"Americans have often addressed our consulate with many issues, including to apply for a Russian visa," the diplomat told RIA Novosti.

The consulate handled work from seven western states, and was the oldest and most established of Russia’s consulates in the US. In addition to the embassy in Washington, there are three other consulates – in New York, Seattle and Houston.

READ MORE: Lavrov to Tillerson on consulate closure: We regret escalation of tension not initiated by Russia

In late July, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Moscow told Washington to reduce the number of its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people.

The order came following the US Congress’ approval of new sanctions against Russia, and aimed to equalize the number of both countries’ diplomatic staff by September 1. As a result, the US Embassy staff in Russia was cut by 755.

While saying it had “fully implemented” Moscow’s decision, Washington called Russia’s move “unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.

However, it said that “the US hopes that... we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward” with improving relations and cooperation between the two nations.