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U.S. kicks out 60 Russian diplomats, shuts Seattle consulate

President Donald Trump, seen with Vice President Mike

President Donald Trump, seen with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on Friday, has authorized the expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence officers from the United States. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Nicholas Kamm

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence officers — including a dozen working in New York City — as part of a joint effort with European allies aimed at punishing Russia for a nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom.

The list of Russians who have seven days to vacate the United States includes 12 members of Russia’s United Nations outpost in New York City, White House officials said.

Forty-eight other Russians working for the Russian embassy have also been given notice to leave, and the United States has ordered the closure of the Russian consulate office in Seattle, officials said.

“Today’s actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

The Seattle consulate was of particular concern because of its proximity “to one of our submarine bases and Boeing,” Sanders said, referring to the aerospace company.

A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss national security matters, said the Russian intelligence agents working in the United States were attempting to “hide behind the veneer of diplomatic immunity” as they worked covertly to collect intelligence to send to Moscow.

The White House’s announcement came as more than a dozen other European Union states pledged similar expulsions in solidarity with the United Kingdom, which booted 23 Russian officials in response to a March 4 nerve-agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the British city of Salisbury. British authorities have said the nerve agent used in the attack, Novichok, was developed by the Russians, but Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.

“The United States and many of our friends are sending a clear message that we will not stand for Russia’s misconduct,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.

Russia responded to the United Kingdom’s move by booting 23 British officials from its country. On Monday, a spokesman for Russian leader Vladmir Putin said the Kremlin was considering another round of retaliatory measures in response to the latest expulsions.

“We will be guided by the reciprocity principle,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The Trump administration’s move to oust the Russians from U.S. soil comes nearly two weeks after the United States issued financial sanctions on dozens of Russian operatives charged with cyber attacks against the United States and with meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

President Donald Trump spoke with Putin last week, but the call made by Trump to congratulate Putin on his recent re-election did not broach the subject of the nerve-gas attack, White House officials have said.

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, when asked why Trump did not bring up the nerve agent attack during his call with Putin, said there were “some positive developments” on other issues, and said the White House wants “to work with Russia, but their actions don’t always let this happen.”

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