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In Retaliation, U.S. Orders Russia to Close Consulate in San Francisco

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two diplomatic annexes, in New York and Washington, retaliating against Russia’s order for the United States to reduce its embassy staff in Moscow by 755 people.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson informed Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, of the tit-for-tat move in a phone call on Thursday morning. The administration took pains to say the move was purely reciprocal, and was not designed to further escalate tensions between the United States and Russia.

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But, in a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said Mr. Lavrov “expressed regret at the escalation of tension in bilateral relations,” and said the Russian government would study the move before deciding how to respond.

Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Lavrov are expected to meet during the United Nations General Assembly next month.

“In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians,” the State Department’s spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said in a statement, the United States would require Russia to close the three offices by Sept. 2.

The State Department would not say how many employees will be affected by the closings, although it noted that the reduction would leave the United States and Russia with three consulates in each other’s country.


“While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes,” the statement said, “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.”

The Cold War-style response had been expected since earlier this month, when Russia ordered the American embassy staff cuts after Congress imposed sanctions because of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The Russian consulate in San Francisco is the oldest and most established consulate in the United States, according to administration officials, consisting of an office building and a residence. The two annexes housed Russian trade missions.

But the State Department’s response seemed calculated to avoid deepening the rift with Russia. The administration is not expelling any Russian diplomatic personnel from the United States, nor did it touch the staff at Russia’s main embassy in Washington.

“It is an important and needed response, but it is not proportionate,” said Michael A. McFaul, who served as ambassador to Moscow during the Obama administration. “The dismissal of 755 employees has a much greater impact on our diplomatic operations in Russia than this action has on Russian operations in the United States.”

The Trump administration’s announcement of the action also bore little resemblance to Russia’s move, which was announced by President Vladimir V. Putin himself in an interview with stare-run Russian television.

The White House delegated the response to Mr. Tillerson, and the explanation of the move was left to a midlevel State Department official.

President Trump expressed gratitude, rather than anger, toward Mr. Putin when was asked about the Russian action to reduce American embassy personnel in Moscow.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down the payroll,” Mr. Trump said, “and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a lot of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll.”

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