Trump thanks Putin for firing embassy staff
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