By Jeremy Diamond and Allie Malloy, CNN
(CNN) — President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats the United States identified as intelligence agents and the closure of a Russian consulate in Seattle in response to Russia’s alleged use of a nerve agent in the United Kingdom.
Of those being expelled, 48 of the alleged intelligence agents work at the Russian embassy in Washington and 12 are posted at the United Nations in New York, senior administration officials said. The U.S. is taking the action after joining the United Kingdom in accusing Russia of being behind the attempted murder earlier this month of a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom.
“The United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
“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. With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences,” she said. “The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior.”
Sanders also added that the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle was tied to the consulate’s “proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing.” A senior administration official declined to say whether the U.S. believes Russian agents were spying on U.S. submarine bases.
The consulate closure and the expulsion of dozens of diplomats came on the heels of the UK’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats. Fourteen European Union member states also moved on Monday to expel Russian diplomats, European Council President Donald Tusk said.
“Additional measures, including further expulsions … are not to be excluded in the coming days and weeks,” said Tusk, speaking in Varna, Bulgaria.
He said the European Council agreed with the UK “that it is highly likely the Russian Federation is responsible” for the poisoning.
“We remain critical of the actions of the Russian government,” Tusk added.
Senior Trump administration officials said the actions were being taken not only as a direct response to that attack, but also to rebuke Russia’s “steady drumbeat of destabilizing actions.”
The actions came less than a week after Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his reelection. Trump did not raise the nerve agent attack during the call, and senior administration officials said the two leaders have not spoken since.
But a senior administration official said the United States’ retaliatory action was “absolutely” Trump’s decision, saying it was “something he was involved in from the beginning and that he personally made after several meetings with his team last week.”
The expulsion comes about 15 months after the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
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