Washington tells Russia to close consulate, buildings in US

WASHINGTON, Aug 31 (Reuters) - The United States has told Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two annex buildings in Washington and New York, the State Department said on Thursday, a response to Moscow last month ordering cuts in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia.

The announcement was the latest in tit-for-tat measures between the two countries that have helped to drive relations to a new post-Cold War low, thwarting hopes on both sides that they might improve after U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January.

RELATED: Trump-Russia timeline

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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
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Last month Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people, after Congress overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against Russia. The sanctions were imposed in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and to punish Russia further for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

"We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Thursday.

"In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City," Nauert said. "These closures will need to be accomplished by September 2."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed regret during a phone call with his U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson about Washington's decision, his ministry said.

"Moscow will closely study the new measures announced by the Americans, after which our reaction will be conveyed," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

To cope with the reduction in staff in Russia, the United States said last week it would have to sharply scale back visa services, a move that will hit Russian business travelers, tourists and students.

The Russian consulate in San Francisco handles work from seven states in the Western United States. There are three other Russian consulates separate from the embassy in Washington. They are in New York, Seattle and Houston.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Grant McCool)

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