Will Saudi’s gamble in Lebanon with Hariri lead to war between Israel and Hezbollah?

Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay
Will Saudi’s gamble in Lebanon with Hariri lead to war between Israel and Hezbollah?
The Hariri ‘kidnapping’ by Riyadh is generating more fake news and is only succeeding in boosting his popularity in Lebanon. But did a Saudi prince and Trump’s son intend on making him a bedroom poster icon in their quest to vex Hezbollah?

The recent news that Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state has urged Lebanon’s prime minister to return to Lebanon is baffling, in a story which is surely heading toward Hollywood scriptwriters any day now. On the same day as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (‘MbS’) began his purge of just about anyone who could question his leadership – or bankroll a campaign to topple him once he takes the throne – Saad Hariri’s jet touched down in Riyadh, and he was swiftly surrounded by Saudi police who took all the phones off him and his entourage. In the following days, no one knows his true fate after he read a script announcing his immediate resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister, citing implausible reasons such as attempts to assassinate him.

READ MORE: Lebanese president says situation surrounding al-Hariri ‘mysterious,’ asks Riyadh to clarify

In one week, regional journalists, mainly aligned to Saudi Arabian interests, have had a field day speculating on what is going on. No one really knows, not even European heads of state or least of all Rex Tillerson, who is under the allusion that Hariri is in control of his own fate.

Analysts are divided into two camps over what the forced resignation is really about, which followed a knee-jerk reaction from those in Lebanon who believed it was all a theatrical ploy to get Hezbollah to agree to Hariri’s proposed cabinet of ministers. As time passed, the two camps’ theories evolved into the move being orchestrated by MbS to show Iran that it is still powerful, using the Hariri resignation as a tool to re-balance the Saudi-Iran pendulum of geopolitical spoils. The second theory is more about Saudi Arabia itself and what the new crown prince is doing there. Many believe the Hariri resignation – which came on the same day as the round up of 11 princes, four ministers, and billionaire Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, is part of the crackdown, as Hariri himself is suspected of links to many of the businessmen targeted. Some speculate the crown prince is investigating him and is considering charging him – and therefore needs him to lose his immunity from prosecution, which he held as Lebanon’s PM. The theory, analysts tell me, is that Hariri needs to be kept on a short leash until he can be entirely cleared and also needs to prove his undying loyalty to MbS and his father.

Yet if the plan by MbS is to use Hariri to extract some token payment from Iran, the plan is already back-firing on a grand scale and like many of Riyadh’s schemes – Syria, Yemen, and Qatar – is comically ill-fated. In one week of Hariri being in Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese PM has achieved more in unifying the Lebanese than he could ever have hoped for in a lifetime of politics. Surely the Saudi’s ruse did not intend for Hariri to gain cross-party popularity in a country so sternly and insidiously divided by confessional lines? In just a week, Lebanon’s leading figures have quickly reached a consensus that they need Hariri back, a point echoed by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who is looking increasingly statesmanlike as the days pass and whose calm, measured speeches are now being watched by the entire country – thanks to Riyadh’s cunning plan.

Could it really have been the Saudi Crown prince’s plan to boost Hariri’s popularity and make the Hezbollah chief’s speeches unmissable?

Kushner, a Saudi prince and low hanging fruit

One has to wonder who or what is really behind this plan. Many pundits are troubled by how aloof Tillerson is to the reality of what’s happening. It’s as though the US really isn’t on the same page. And there’s a reason for this. It’s my belief that Trump has almost entirely outsourced the Middle East to his son-in-law who is behind this latest gambit in Lebanon. Just a few weeks before Jared Kushner was in Riyadh to spend time with MbS.  The Hariri plot is part of a whole new relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, who are both working hand-in-hand on a new strategy to destabilize Iran. Lebanon is a cheap shot for that. Low hanging fruit. After failing in both Syria and Yemen, where else could an easy spoil be gleaned, by taking a swipe at Iran’s feared proxy Hezbollah? But the stunt comes with a very high price to pay when – not if – it fails. If the Lebanon shenanigan goes awry and it makes Hezbollah even more popular there, does that dampen the ambitions of MbS and Kushner to hit the Shiite group or merely guide them like moths veering closer to the alluring flame?

Perhaps the answer can be found with Trump. For us to understand truly what is going in the head of the Saudi prince, we should wrestle with two points. First, his rapid rise to the seat of the crown prince is entirely due to him presenting himself to both the Israelis and the Americans as a new type of Saudi leader who could recognize the state of Israel if he was made king, which explains this new partnership unraveling so quickly. Secondly, one of the reasons why Trump likes MbS much is that the Saudi prince can be so easily understood by Trump. MbS is the Trump of Saudi Arabia. Like the US president, the crown prince is insecure, obsessed with control and seems determined to be on the front pages of newspapers – regardless of the consequences. Like Trump, he also has no regard for the media and is deluded about himself and his own abilities, particularly beyond the borders of his own country.

Falling on your sword

In a country known for being an irony-free zone, it’s also interesting to observe how the obsession with hitting Iran is a vicious circle or a sword which the Saudis have slowly lowered themselves onto; Saudi Arabia’s meddling in the region has only made Iran and Hezbollah stronger in the last five years. Understandably, Riyadh now looks to Israel as a partner in settling old scores, but it all adds up to sour grapes and now apparently both Saudi Arabia and Israel have one chief and self-defining objective: to claw back self-respect and reinstall the pride lost, through defeats with Iran and its proxies.

They both now look at Hezbollah in Lebanon and see a war which could hurt the Shiite group could be a major victory to re-write the history books.

Another irony about the Hariri story is that it is due to the collapse of the Saudi economy, which hurled Hariri back into politics in Lebanon after the Saudis couldn’t pay Hariri’s construction company the $9 billion it was owed.  And MbS is credited as being the “architect to Saudi Arabia’s oil policy which reveled in the over-production of oil, leading to rock bottom prices today as it was his idea to counter US fracking companies. Another bullet. Another foot. Another spasm of delusion and denial.

Sex it up

Of course, it’s not only Saudi aligned journalists who are sexing the whole Lebanon story up beyond its true significance. US mainstream media, like the New York Times, just can’t help itself on indulging in using the word “war” in many of its misleading headlines, raising an obvious question: is there now a new dynamic which could speed up the inevitable war between Israel and Hezbollah?

The answer is probably not in the short term. While Lebanese academics like Dr Jamal Wakim stake their reputations on saying that Israel will invade Lebanon in the next 12 months, the Saudis believe an economic blockade of Lebanon would have much more effective results on destabilizing the country and causing chaos which could then weaken Hezbollah internally, thus providing the perfect moment for Israel to strike, if Hezbollah is forced to take control of Lebanon. It’s a hell of a gamble though. And already looking like it can’t work as, historically, the Lebanese have always supported Hezbollah when the country is threatened. They are not stupid and can already see that imposing a financial crisis – by trying to starve the economy of trade and remittances from outside – is an act of war in itself. But the Middle East is a region consumed by fake news and checkbook journalists and those in the West who only give the crisis a cursory look might be fooled in believing the planted narrative that “Hezbollah has declared war on Saudi Arabia,” which many newspapers dutifully and shamefully published. Hezbollah’s mere presence, let alone military strength is enough to spook the Saudis. This is clear. The smartest thing MbS and Kushner could do now is to deflate the balloon on Hariri becoming an iconic bedroom poster like Che Guevara before it’s too late and send him back to Lebanon to negotiate a deal, as surely he will achieve much more in Beirut than he can ever in Riyadh. But Tillerson also needs to intervene, rather than merely warn against the Saudis creating a proxy war in Lebanon before it’s too late, and the Saudis pull the entire region into a new war which can never be won, and Saudi Arabia and its new ally certainly can’t afford to lose. Who knows? One day we may start even believing the click bait masterpieces of the New York Times. But don’t hold your breath.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

Chinese, US ‘unequivocal’ on rejecting nuke-armed North Korea: Tillerson

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said talks here between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping forged an “unequivocal” agreement between both countries that North Korea cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

“There is no disagreement on North Korea. We were pretty pleased by the fact that the Chinese have been really clear and unequivocal that they will not accept a North Korea with nuclear weapons,” Tillerson told ABC News’ Cecilia Vega in a briefing at the conclusion of the summit.

“Our efforts are complementary -– not in any way contradictory -– to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table about how they will denuclearize their country,” he said.

While the comments highlighted a key area of common ground, officials gave no indication of new steps China would take to help resolve the standoff with North Korea or a clear timeline for other possible moves in the future.

Tillerson acknowledged that Trump and Xi differ in timing, tactics and approach to pressuring the Kim Jong Un regime. He said China believes the sanctions currently in place need time to have maximum effect.

“We’ve had some tremendous discussions on that today and I think things will happen, I believe things will happen,” Trump said during the meeting with Xi.

White House aides have said Trump believes Xi uniquely holds the key to resolving the crisis in North Korea. China is the Kim regime’s largest financial benefactor and has multiple points of leverage — from cross-border trade, to bank accounts and oil exports.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in Beijing. (The Associated Press)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in Beijing. (The Associated Press)
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Tillerson suggested Trump showered Xi with flattery in their meetings to try to drive home that point.

“President Trump has been very clear with President Xi -– that you are a very powerful neighbor of theirs, you account for 90-plus percent of their economic activity, you’re a very strong man and you can solve this for me,” Tillerson said.

At a joint press conference by Trump and Xi, both men expressed optimism for a solution short of war.

“As long as we stand together, with others if necessary, against those who threaten our civilization that threat will never happen. It doesn’t even have a chance,” Trump said.

Courtesy: abc

‘Interference’: Iraq PM’s office rejects Tillerson’s call for Iran-backed militias to ‘go home’

‘Interference’: Iraq PM’s office rejects Tillerson’s call for Iran-backed militias to ‘go home’
In a tight-lipped statement, Baghdad rejected a call by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for Iran-backed Shia militias to “go home” after the demise of Islamic State in Iraq.

Earlier on Sunday, Rex Tillerson said at a rare meeting with top Iraqi and Saudi Arabian officials that Iraq’s Shiite militias – also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) – and their Iranian advisers need to leave Iraq as the struggle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is nearing an end.

But Baghdad seems reluctant to go along with Washington’s request, judging by a polite but robust remark made on Monday by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office.

“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” the statement posted on Facebook reads. It added that many PMU members were native Iraqis who made “enormous sacrifices to defend their country and the Iraqi people.”

The Iraqi government was surprised by Tillerson’s suggestion, according to the release.

During the Sunday meeting, Tillerson said “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against… ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home.”

Foreign fighters in Iraq “need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control,” the secretary of state said, amid US efforts to contain Tehran’s growing presence in the region.

Meanwhile, Tillerson also called on other countries to sever business ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which the US itself recently designated as a terrorist organization.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined militia units in 2014 after Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a national uprising against Islamic State terrorists by issuing a non-sectarian fatwa. Shiite PMU units were often referred to as part of the Iraqi security apparatus.

Though there are no official statistics, at some point PMU units numbered up to 100,000 fighters, according to US military estimates dated last year. The forces’ estimates ranged from 80,000 to 100,000, according to military spokesman Colonel Chris Garver.

READ MORE: Iran-backed Shiite forces in Iraq now estimated at 100,000 – US military spokesman

Iran has secured major strategic gains in the war against IS in Iraq over recent years, as it funded and trained the PMU which fought alongside the Iraqi Army in the battle of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities. In contrast, US ally Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom, has been on bad terms with Shiite-majority Iraq for more than two decades, after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, despite attempts to mend ties in recent years.

Courtesy: RT

Tillerson talks tough on China, Saudi-led quartet

(CNN)On the eve of a week-long trip to the Middle East, South Asia and Europe, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with two US news outlets, directing tough rhetoric toward China and setting low expectations for a breakthrough in the diplomatic freeze between Qatar and its neighbors.

First, in an interview with Bloomberg News, Tillerson warned that the United States is “expecting to see some movement” from China on areas of historic disagreement between the two countries, “whether it’s North Korea, or whether it’s South China Sea, or whether it’s trade.”
The comments followed a similar verbal rapping, issued in a speech Wednesday at a Washington, DC think tank, where Tillerson took the Chinese government to task for what he deemed irresponsible and predatory behavior. They also come just three weeks before President Donald Trump is expected to visit China.
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Tripling down, Tillerson told The Wall Street Journal in a 35-minute interview that China needs to change course, particularly on addressing trade imbalances and relaxing its hold on disputed territory in the South China Sea.
“We can do this one of two ways,” Tillerson said, according to the Journal. “We can do it cooperatively and collaboratively, or we can do it by taking actions and letting you react to that.”
The Trump administration is in the midst of attempting to put pressure on North Korea through Beijing — which remains North Korea’s top trading partner, despite supporting recent United Nations Security Council sanctions related to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Following Tillerson’s remarks on Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called on the US to “abandon its prejudices,” adding, “China firmly upholds the international order with the United Nations at its core.”
But at a briefing on Thursday afternoon, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tillerson’s comments should come as “no surprise” to China.
“We’ve had those conversations in private previously,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve really discussed them publicly.”
In his interview with Bloomberg, Tillerson also criticized a Saudi-led alliance for their unwillingness to reach a diplomatic settlement with neighboring Qatar.
“There seems to be a real unwillingness on the part of some of the parties to want to engage,” Tillerson said. “It’s up to the leadership of the quartet when they want to engage with Qatar because Qatar has been very clear — they’re ready to engage.”
“I do not have a lot of expectations for it being resolved anytime soon,” Tillerson added, despite the fact that he will be visiting both Saudi Arabia and Qatar on his upcoming trip.
Previous interventions by Tillerson and the Trump administration have so far failed to end the crisis, despite an earlier round of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by the secretary of state in July.
At the State Department briefing, Nauert acknowledged Tillerson is “certainly discouraged” over the lack of progress on the issue, for which she faulted the parties.
Tillerson sets off for Saudi Arabia and Qatar this weekend. His trip will also include stops in India, Pakistan, and Switzerland.
Courtesy: CNN

Corker hits Trump for his ‘castration’ of Secretary of State Tillerson

Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who has been trading barbs with the president, is now hitting President Trump for his “castration” of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

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The Tennessee Republican told the Washington Post that it’s the “castration” of Tillerson “that I am most exercised about.”

Corker said Trump undermined Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts with repeated public statements denigrating the secretary of state.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee said such comments will lead to a situation where Trump will only have a “binary choice” of war or a North Korea and Iran that could threaten the United States with nuclear weapons.

“You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state without giving yourself that binary choice,” Corker told the Washington Post.

TRUMP SLAMS CORKER, WHO CALLS WHITE HOUSE ‘ADULT DAY CARE CENTER’

Trump last week told reporters he wished Tillerson would be “tougher.”

“You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state”

– Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee

“We have a very good relationship,” Trump told reporters. “We disagree on a couple of things. Sometimes I’d like him to be a little bit tougher. But other than that, we have a very good relationship.”

Trump also told reporters recently that he and Tillerson have “a little bit of a different attitude on North Korea than other people might have” but “ultimately my attitude is the one that matters.”

Speaking last month in China, which wants Washington to resume a full dialogue with Pyongyang, Tillerson fueled speculation of a new diplomatic effort, acknowledging open channels of communications between the two countries.

But then Trump appeared to undermine his efforts.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted, once again deploying his pet name for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Corker’s comments follow a week of the Republican, who recently announced he won’t run for re-election, ramping up his criticism of the president.

After the president accused Corker of lacking the guts to run for re-election last weekend, Corker responded: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

Rex Tillerson travels to China to discuss North Korea

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Beijing to pile pressure on China over the North Korean crisis. The US believes China can do a lot more to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

China Präsident Xi Jinping & US-Außenminister Rex Tillerson (Reuters/T. Peter)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on Saturday. It is the secretary of state’s second visit in office to the world’s second-largest economy.

US President Donald Trump, who will travel to Asia in November, has repeatedly urged China to exert more pressure on North Korea, one of its regional allies, to convince the Kim Jong Un regime to reverse its nuclear and missile programs.

Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests to date and 15 missile launches this year alone, which experts say demonstrate the regime has a viable nuclear capability.

China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has backed UN sanctions on its ally. On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that North Korean companies must close their operations in China by January in line with the latest round of international penalties.

Ahead of Tillerson’s Saturday trip, Susan Thornton, the acting US assistant secretary for East Asia, told US lawmakers that US-China cooperation over North Korea was increasing.

“We are working closely with China to execute this strategy and are clear-eyed in viewing the progress — growing, if uneven — that China has made on this front,” she said.

“We have recently seen Chinese authorities take additional actions,” Thornton added.

Courtesy, DW

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US and North Korea in dangerous war of words

A delicate line

Trump has threatened to use military force against Pyongyang if the conflict accelerates.

“The United States has great strength and patience but if forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said to the UN General Assembly last week.

In a display of military strength, US bombers and fighter escorts flew over North Korea last week. The planes flew to the farthest point north of the border between North and South Korea by any such US aircraft this century, the Pentagon said, adding that the mission showed “how seriously President Donald Trump takes North Korea’s reckless behavior.”

Read more: Donald Trump orders sweeping new travel ban, including N. Korea

Beijing appears to toe a delicate line between pressuring Pyongyang while at the same time avoiding any situation that would threaten the North Korean stability. China claims negotiations are the only workable solution to the crisis.

“China doesn’t want the DPRK to collapse because that would leave many uncertainties regarding its weapons, refugees and a US base at its doorstep,” Eduardo Araral, vice dean of research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told DW.

Araral added that the US would not be able to handle North Korea without cooperation from China. “US-China ties are so intertwined that the US cannot continue hurting China, for example on trade, without hurting itself,” he said.

Read more: Why China won’t help US against North Korea

One of the major hurdles in preventing a united front from the US and China in dealing with the Kim regime is the uncertainty of the geopolitical outcome on the Korean Peninsula if the North were to collapse and be folded into the South.

US and Chinese interests do merge, however, in that both do not want a nuclear-ready North Korean military machine, and China especially does not want a nuclear war in its backyard.

Read more: North Korea nuclear ‘blackmail’ aimed at direct US talks

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Diplomatic war: From Obama’s expulsion of Russian embassy staff to Trump’s closure of SF consulate

Diplomatic war: From Obama’s expulsion of Russian embassy staff to Trump’s closure of SF consulate
A series of diplomatic ‘tit-for-tat’ steps since Barack Obama’s expulsion of Russian staff last year has severely strained relations between Russia and US. In its latest move, citing a “spirit of parity,” Washington gave Moscow 2 days to shut down its San Francisco consulate.

December 29, 2016: Obama expels Russian diplomats, confiscates diplomatic property

Just days before the New Year celebrations, then-US President Barack Obama declared 35 Russian diplomats in the US “persona non grata” and gave them 72 hours to leave the country. The decision affected 96 people – the officials and their families, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

Obama described those expelled as “intelligence operatives,” having alleged that the Russian embassy staff acted in a “manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status.” Washington also closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland. Those were vacation retreats, which the US claimed Moscow used for intelligence-related purposes.

READ MORE: US sanctions Russia: Who, why & how we got here

The Kremlin resisted retaliatory measures suggested by its foreign ministry so as not to ruin the holidays for American diplomats. “We reserve the right to retaliate, but we will not sink to the level of this irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy. We will take further moves on restoring Russian-American relations based on the policies that the administration of President-elect Donald Trump adopts,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time.

READ MORE: ‘Putin behaved like only adult in the room’ as outgoing Obama ratchets up US-Russia tensions 

To justify the expulsions, the Obama administration blamed Russia for allegedly interfering in the US presidential election which saw Republican candidate Donald Trump become president. No evidence of Moscow’s interference or hacking has ever been made public by the US intelligence community.

Moscow denied accusations of Russia aiding Trump and said it’s “reminiscent of a witch hunt,” with Putin noting that the US is not “a banana republic” for others to interfere with its people’s choice and determine its political course.

July 25, 2017: Congress approves unilateral anti-Russia sanctions bill

Despite the new US president’s apparent intentions to build better relations with Moscow, and after months of contacts through various diplomatic channels that led to reassurances, Trump signed legislation that imposed new sanctions against Russia at the beginning of August.

Passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the new legislation partially stripped Trump of his presidential authority to formulate a foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia, by limiting his ability to ease sanctions without the approval from Congress.

Trump signed the ‘Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ but noted it was “seriously flawed” and had “clearly unconstitutional provisions” that encroach on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate foreign policy.

Having discussed Washington’s sanctions policy with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the US law on sanctions against Russia “has become another link in the chain of unfriendly steps and dangerous for international stability, striking a powerful blow to the prospects for bilateral cooperation.”

July 28, 2017: Moscow tells US to cut embassy staff down to size

Following the legislation’s approval by the US Congress, the Kremlin hit back, targeting the American diplomatic missions in Russia.

More:  will have to leave Russia as a result of Washington’s own policies –  http://on.rt.com/8j43 

Photo published for Putin: 755 US embassy staff in Russia must go, time to show we won’t leave anything unanswered — RT...

Putin: 755 US embassy staff in Russia must go, time to show we won’t leave anything unanswered — RT…

The US embassy in Russia will have to cut its staff by 755 people as a result of Washington’s policies, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in an exclusive interview with Rossiya 1 TV.

rt.com

Moscow ordered the US State Department to limit the number of its personnel in Russia to 455, bringing it in line with the number of Russian diplomats in the US. President Putin said 755 American staff would have to leave by September 1.

READ MORE: US compounds in Moscow: What they lose and what they get to keep (PHOTOS)

Moscow also took back property used by American mission staff in the Russian capital, barring embassy workers from the retreat in the renowned Serebryany Bor park and forest area as well as storage facilities in the south of Moscow.

August 21, 2017: US cuts back visa operations in Russia

In response, the US embassy in Russia announced it was suspending all “non-immigrant visa operations” in Russia as of August 23. Visa operations would resume in September, but only at the main embassy building in Moscow. Russians would no longer be able to apply for visas at US consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

UPDATE: Russia will not act against US citizens as retaliatory step to US visa decision – Lavrov https://on.rt.com/8kwq 

Photo published for US embassy in Russia temporarily halts issue of non-immigrant visas — RT News

US embassy in Russia temporarily halts issue of non-immigrant visas — RT News

The US embassy in Russia is suspending all “nonimmigrant visa operations” in Russia as of August 23. Visa operations will be resumed only in the main embassy building in Moscow on September 1.

rt.com

Lavrov said the visa decision had been made to worsen Russian citizens’ attitude toward their authorities, with his ministry adding the move had “an obvious political connotation.”

Russians will have to wait for 85 days for an appointment at the US embassy in Moscow if they want to apply for standard tourist visas, according to the State Department.

The appointment waiting time is 53 days for other non-immigrant visas, such as business ones. Before the announcement, the time limits were reportedly much shorter, even during high season.

August 31, 2017: US orders closure of Russian consulate

Though the decision to cut back consular operations in Russia was made by the State Department and not Moscow, the Trump administration cited “the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians” to order the closure of Russia’s consulate in San Francisco, California and two diplomatic annexes in Washington, DC and New York City, on August 31.

Russia was given 2 days’ notice to implement the decision.

“The US is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement announcing the move. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed to reporters that Trump himself made the decision.

Lavrov “expressed regret over the escalation of tensions,” noting they were not initiated by Russia. He told Tillerson that Moscow would “closely study” the new US measures and would inform Washington of its reaction in due course.

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