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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‘Overwhelming force’: South Korea conducts bombing drill in response to Pyongyang’s missile test

‘Overwhelming force’: South Korea conducts bombing drill in response to Pyongyang’s missile test
Demonstrating its “overwhelming” military force to North Korea, South Korea conducted bombing drills just hours after Pyongyang launched what appeared to be an intermediate range ballistic missile that reportedly fell in Japanese waters.

The show of force, ordered by South Korean president Moon Jae-in, involved four F15K fighter jets dropping MK84 multipurpose bombs on a shooting range near the inter-Korean border in Taebaek, the presidential press secretary told reporters, according to Yonhap.

Moon’s chief press secretary, Yoon Young-chan, said the bombing drill was ordered immediately after the National Security Council meeting convened to discuss possible counter measures Seoul could take against Pyongyang’s ballistic missile provocation.

“We assessed North Korea’s provocations as extremely severe and decided to maintain a vigilant posture in preparation for the possibility of additional provocations by North Korea,” the chief of the National Security Council added.

Shortly after the NSC meeting, South Korea’s national security director, Chung Eui-yong called president Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster to discuss the incident, Yonhap reports. During the conversation, McMaster noted that “president Donald Trump has fully supported Mr. Moon’s policy toward North Korea and the Korean government’s response to North Korean provocations.”

South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, has meanwhile discussed the incident with the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The diplomats agreed to pursue additional UN sanctions against Pyongyang, Yonhap reported.

The UN Security Council is reportedly scheduled to meet Tuesday, but the time of the meeting has not yet been confirmed.

“South Korea, the US, and Japan jointly requested the UNSC hold an emergency meeting to address an emergence of threats to the peace and security,” an official at S. Korea’s foreign ministry, told Yonhap.

READ MORE: Germany supports Russian-Chinese ‘double freeze’ plan for North Korea crisis – FM Gabriel

Both Russia and China supported the last round of UN Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang – although Moscow and Beijing have been offering their own roadmap out of the crisis. The “double freezing” Chinese-Russian initiative, welcomed by Germany but firmly rejected by Washington, proposes that North Korea stops its ballistic missile and nuclear activities while the US and its allies simultaneously halt their war games in the region.

As South Korea responded to Pyongyang’s latest provocation, the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) staged a pre-planned Patriot surface-to-air missile battery training exercise.

Tillerson sees possible pathway to North Korea dialogue

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • The top US diplomat applauds North Korea’s recent “restraint”

Washington (CNN)Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled that the US is open to dialogue with North Korea, a day after the regime in Pyongyang once again issued bristling threats against Washington.

Tillerson broke off during remarks to reporters about the administration’s strategy in Afghanistan to make an observation about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“I think it is worth noting, we have had no missile launches or provocative acts on the part of, or provocative actions, on the part of North Korea since the UN Security Council resolution” sanctioning Pyongyang on August 5, Tillerson said Tuesday at the State Department.
US: Diplomacy remains key to N. Korea crisis

US: Diplomacy remains key to N. Korea crisis 00:54
“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has demonstrated restraint,” Tillerson said. “We hope this is the signal we have been looking for, that they are ready to restrain provocative acts. And perhaps we are seeing a pathway in the near future to having some dialogue.”
Tillerson made the comments a day after the US began annual military exercises with South Korea which often rile North Korea. He also spoke just hours after the Treasury Department announced new sanctionsagainst Russian and Chinese firms that do business with North Korea, enabling it to fund its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
Nerves in Asia were on edge in July after North Korea tested two ICBM missiles that could in theory reach the US mainland. The launches prompted the unanimous August vote in the Security Council to slap Pyongyang with sanctions that could slash its $3 billion export revenue by as much as one-third.
Pyongyang warns against US-South Korea drills
Pyongyang warns against US-South Korea drills 02:41
Then tensions soared in early August after President Donald Trump declared that North Korea would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the US. Pyongyang responded the next day with more threats, including a warning that it would target Guam. The threats have only continued.
A day before the US and South Korea began long-planned annual military exercises on Monday, North Korea warned that the US was risking an “uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war.” North Korean state-run media said that the country’s military could strike the US at anytime and that neither Guam, Hawaii nor the US mainland could avoid the “merciless strike.”
But as Tillerson pointed out Tuesday, the DPRK hasn’t taken any action. “I want to take note of that and acknowledge it,” Tillerson said. “We need to see more on their part but I want to it acknowledge the steps they have taken thus far. That it’s important to take note of it.”
Courtesy, CNN

North Korea: Donald Trump’s threats ‘load of nonsense’

In another marked escalation of strong rhetoric, Pyongyang has accused US President Donald Trump of being “bereft of reason.” Tensions have soared since Trump issued a bellicose threat against the communist nation.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Choe Ryong Hae, vice-chairman of the central committee of the Workers' Party (picture alliance/AP Photo/W. Maye-E)

North Korea’s military on Thursday described overt threats from US President Donald Trump as a “load of nonsense,” marking another uptick in strong rhetoric increasing tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” the military said in comments carried by state-run news agency KCNA.

Read more: Can North Korea’s elites oust Kim Jong Un?

The report added that actions the North Korean military “is about to take” will be effective in restraining Washington’s “frantic moves.”

Tensions have soared in the past week with Trump striking a combative tone, saying Tuesday that North Korea “best not make any more threats” against the US. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” he added.

‘Never tolerate’ provocations

South Korea’s military responded to Pyongyang’s latest threats, saying it will face a “stern and strong” response from Washington and Seoul if goes ahead with plans to fire rockets near Guam. Tokyo added that Japan “can never tolerate” such provocations from North Korea.

Washington and Seoul are prepared to “immediately and sternly punish” provocations from North Korea, said Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

US State Secretary Rex Tillerson on Wednesday tried to defuse the situation, telling reporters aboard his plane that there wasn’t “any immediate threat” to the island of Guam after Pyongyang said it was considering plans to target areas surrounding the US territory.

“Americans should sleep well at night,” he said in an attempt to calm fears of a possible military conflict between the US and North Korea. “Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”

Map of the Pacific Ocean showing Guam and Hawaii, the US and North Korea

War of words

However, soon after Tillerson’s remarks, Trump appeared to up the stakes again by praising US nuclear armaments, saying they had become “stronger and more powerful than ever before” since the start of his presidency.

…Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!

The escalation in rhetoric follows the release of a Japanese defense paper and reports by multiple US media outlets that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged North Korea to stop considering any actions that would “lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

Pyongyang “would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates,” he said in a statement.

Beijing: Situation ‘sensitive’

Several world powers, including Germany, have urged both sides to show restraint. China has described the situation as “highly complicated and sensitive.”

“We hope all relevant parties speak cautiously and move prudently, stop provoking each other, avoid further escalating the situation and strive to return to the correct track of dialogue and negotiations as soon as possible,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

Read more: What is China’s role in the North Korean crisis?

Meanwhile, North Korea on Wednesday said it had released Hyeon Soo Lim, a South Korean-born Canadian citizen, on humanitarian grounds.

The 61-year-old Lim, who had worked as a Presbyterian pastor in Canada, was arrested in North Korea in early 2015 and handed a life sentence of hard labor. Pyongyang claims the pastor was attempting to overthrow the regime, which Canadian authorities vehemently deny.

Watch video00:36

Trump threatens ‘fire and fury’ against North Korea

ls/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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US spy satellites detect North Korea moving anti-ship cruise missiles to patrol boat

Despite the United States’ insistence that North Korea halt its missile tests, U.S. spy agencies detected the rogue communist regime loading two anti-ship cruise missiles on a patrol boat on the country’s east coast just days ago.

It’s the first time these missiles have been deployed on this type of platform since 2014, U.S. officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region told Fox News on Monday.

It also points to more evidence that North Korea isn’t listening to the diplomatic threats from the West.

“The best signal that North Korea could give us that they’re prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in the Philippines Monday.

North Korea loaded two Stormpetrel anti-ship cruise missiles on a Wonsan guided-missile patrol boat at Toejo Dong on North Korea’s east coast.

“North Korea is not showing any evidence it plans to halt its missile tests,” said one official who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information. “It’s a trend that does not bode well for hopes of de-escalating tensions on the [Korean] peninsula.”

The latest moves by Pyongyang point to a likely missile test in the days ahead or it could be a defense measure should the U.S. Navy dispatch more warships to the Korean peninsula, officials said.

President Trump on Monday afternoon voiced his displeasure about the coverage of the unanimous U.N. Security Council vote over the weekend to sanction Pyongyang. “The Fake News Media will not talk about the importance of the United  Nations Security Council’s 15-0 vote in favor of sanctions on N. Korea!” Trump tweeted.

Meantime, there currently are limits to the size of the warheads South Korea is allowed to deploy on top of its missiles. But following a talk between leaders of South Korea and the United States, the Pentagon is working on allowing changes to the policy.

“Yes, we are working on it,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. “It’s a topic under active consideration here, and I would tell you that we would be favorably inclined to do anything which furthers the defensive capabilities of South Korea.”

The United States removed its tactical nuclear missiles from South Korea in 1991.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

US and Russia chief diplomats show ‘readiness’ to talk despite escalating tensions

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Secretary of State Tillerson have met for lengthy talks amidst rising tensions between the two nations. Their meeting follows fresh US sanctions and Russia’s US diplomat expulsion.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sunday that despite tensions with Washington, he believed his US colleagues were prepared to keep communication lines open with Moscow.

“We felt the readiness of our US colleagues to continue dialogue. I think there’s no alternative to that,” Lavrov told reporters after what he said was a lengthy meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (above photo).

Watch video01:17

Russian-German ventures to be hit by US sanctions

Lavrov said his US counterpart asked him extensively about Russia’s decision to expel US diplomats in retaliation for Washington’s latest round of economic sanctions on Moscow.

Read more: Donald Trump signs Russia sanctions bill into law

“He was primarily interested … in details of those decisions that we grudgingly made in response to the law on anti-Russian sanctions,” Lavrov said. He said he shared with Tillerson how Russia planned to carry out the expulsions but didn’t provide details to reporters.

Tillerson emerged from the meeting an hour after it started without taking questions or giving remarks to reporters.

Ukraine talks expected soon

In addition to discussing issues with North Korea and cooperation on cybercrime, Lavrov said Moscow and Washington’s envoys were set to discuss Ukraine.

US President Donald Trump’s special representative for Ukraine negotiations will soon make his first visit to Moscow to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Read more: US sanctions on Russia could endanger energy security for EU

Watch video01:44

Ongoing tensions between US, Russia

Lavrov also said that Tillerson agreed to resume talks between US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. The channel of communication was initially created to discuss hot spots, but it was suspended after the US imposed tighter sanctions on Russia.

Strained ties

On Thursday, Trump reluctantly signed into law sanctions that target the Russian energy sector and place new limits on US investment in Russian companies.

Lawmakers in Congress passed the bill as a response to Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, its involvement in the Syrian conflict and its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Read more: Relations with Trump and Putin – What’s the next move?

Russia said the sanctions amounted to a full economic war and ordered Washington to cut 755 of its 1,200 embassy and consulate staff in Russia. They also seized two US diplomatic properties.

There has been some confusion regarding the cuts as the US is believed to have far fewer than 755 American employees working in the country.

Russia has repeatedly rejected allegations that it interfered in the US election while Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow.

rs/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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The many paths from Trump to Russia

TRUMP’S ASSOCIATES

Jared Kushner Michael Flynn Paul Manafort Carter Page Roger Stone Jeff Sessions JD GordonDonald Trump Jr. Michael Cohen Michael Caputo Erik Prince Rex Tillerson Wilbur Ross Betsy DeVosFelix Sater Aras & Emin Agalarov Alfa Bank Vitaly Churkin

Jared Kushner

Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009. He was a confidant to Trump during the campaign and now serves as a senior adviser to the President. Kushner gave closed-door interviews in July to Senate intelligence committee staff and House intelligence committee members as part of their Russia investigations. He says he “did not collude” with Russia and that all of his actions during the campaign “were proper.”

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