Trump thanks Putin for fir­ing em­bassy staff

New Straits Times - - World -

WASHINGTON: United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day thanked Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin for or­der­ing the US to slash its diplo­matic staff in Rus­sia, re­marks likely to rekin­dle crit­i­cism of Trump’s kid­gloves han­dling of Putin.

Break­ing nearly two weeks of si­lence on Putin’s July 30 or­der cutting US em­bassy and con­sulate staff by nearly two-thirds, Trump said: “I’m very thank­ful that he let go of a large num­ber of peo­ple be­cause now we have a smaller pay­roll.”

Trump said “there’s no real rea­son for them to go back” and “we’re go­ing to save a lot of money”, in re­sponse to Putin’s Cold War-style move, dif­fer­ing from other pres­i­dents in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances in the past.

Con­gres­sional com­mit­tees and a spe­cial coun­sel are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the con­clu­sions of US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign by hack­ing and other meth­ods to help Trump, a Repub­li­can. They are also look­ing into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween the cam­paign and Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

Moscow had re­peat­edly de­nied med­dling in the elec­tion and Trump de­nied any cam­paign col­lu­sion.

Putin, re­act­ing to new sanc­tions im­posed by the US Congress and re­luc­tantly signed into law by Trump, or­dered Washington to cut 755 of its 1,200 em­bassy and con­sulate staff by next month.

It was also a tit-for-tat re­ac­tion to for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama ex­pelling 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats from the US last De­cem­ber over the in­tel­li­gence agency re­ports.

In­tended to be flip­pant or not, Trump’s re­marks were im­me­di­ately de­nounced by cur­rent and for­mer US of­fi­cials who had served both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Nicholas Burns, the State De­part­ment’s third-rank­ing of­fi­cial un­der Repub­li­can pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, called Trump’s com­ments “grotesque”.

“If he was jok­ing, he should have known bet­ter,” said Burns, now a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Univer­sity’s John F. Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment. “If he wasn’t, it’s un­prece­dented. A pres­i­dent has never de­fended the ex­pul­sion of our diplo­mats.” Reuters

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