Russian consulate in San Francisco denounces US 'unfriendly decision' to order its closure

Russia's Consulate General in San Francisc issued a statement Thursday to denounce the US State Department order earlier in the day to close it down.
Russian consulate in San Francisco denounces US 'unfriendly decision' to order its closure

A view of the Russian consulate on August 31, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

Russia's Consulate General in San Francisco, a city on the US West Coast, issued a statement Thursday to denounce the US State Department order earlier in the day to close it down.

Referring the State Department order as an "unfriendly decision," the consulate said it is "another 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."

In addition, acknowledging that it will stop receiving visitors on all consular issues and that the US side gives only two days for its closure by Saturday, the consulate noted in the statement that it issued more than 16,000 tourist visas for American citizens in 2016.

However, the consulate remained operational Thursday, as dozens of people gathered in front of the building in downtown San Francisco, Northern California, waiting to be allowed into the visa office.

They were told by a Russian official that they could pick up travel documents already processed but no new documents will be accepted and processed, and future processing of these documents will be handled by Russian consulate in Seattle, a city in Washington state.

While the consulate official declined to answer any question by reporters, a phone number posted on the consulate's website was never answered when called throughout the day.

The United States has ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco, the US State Department said Thursday, in response to Moscow's demand that the size of US diplomatic staff in Russia be reduced.

The US has also ordered Russia to shutter a chancery annex in Washington D.C. and a consular annex in New York by Saturday, the State Department announced, adding that the move is "in the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians."

"The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries."

The tit-for-tat action came after Russian President Vladimir Putin in July ordered the US to reduce the number of diplomatic personnel in Russia by 755, in response to US sanctions on Russia over its alleged intervention in the 2016 US presidential election.

"With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each," Nauert said. "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."

"The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation's desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern," she said, adding that the US "is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted."

The diplomatic row came at a low point of bilateral relationship between Washington and Moscow, as the two sides hold differences on a range of issues, including the war in Syria, the conflict in Ukraine, and US accusations that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 US presidential elections, a charge Russia strongly denies.

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump said that he hoped the US could have good relations with Russia, which would be "good for world peace."

"I hope that we do have good relations with Russia," Trump said at a joint press conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. "I say it loud and clear. I have been saying it for years. I think it's a good thing if we have great relationships, or at least good relationships, with Russia."

"I believe someday that will happen...I think that's very good for world peace and other things," the US President added.

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