US to Expel 60 Russian Spies After Nerve Agent Attack in Britain

A taxi in front of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, March 26, 2018.Russia's Ambassador to Poland Sergei Andreev was summoned Monday to Poland's Foreign Ministry and said he will stay in Warsaw in the coming weeks, but "we will see" about other embassy employees.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
A taxi in front of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, March 26, 2018.Russia's Ambassador to Poland Sergei Andreev was summoned Monday to Poland's Foreign Ministry and said he will stay in Warsaw in the coming weeks, but "we will see" about other embassy employees.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The U.S. will expel 60 Russian intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover in response to the nerve agent attack in Britain, the White House said Monday.

The Russians -- 48 at the embassy in Washington, D.C., and 12 at the United Nations -- will have seven days to leave, senior White House officials said.

In addition, the Russian consulate in Seattle near the Whidbey Island nuclear submarine base and the headquarters of Boeing, will be closed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

The senior officials, who spoke on background, said the actions are in response to the suspected nerve agent attack in Britain on Russian double agent and now British citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on March 4.

"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," Sanders said in a statement.

The senior officials said they expect Russia to expel a similar number of U.S. officials from Moscow in retaliation to the U.S. action.

President Donald Trump, who returned to the White House on Sunday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, was criticized for failing to back Britain immediately after the attack and for making a congratulatory phone call last week to Russian President Vladimir Putin following his victory in what many called a sham election.

After the phone call to Putin, Trump said he hoped to meet with the Russian leader in the "not too distant future."

The senior officials and Sanders made clear that the expulsions were the result of direct orders from Trump, who had been under pressure from Britain, other NATO allies and the European Union to take action.

The decision was one Trump "personally made after meetings with his team" of national security officials, one of the senior officials said. "This is absolutely his decision."

Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered the expulsion of 23 Russians. Moscow responded by expelling 23 British diplomats in retaliation for what it called "unsubstantiated allegations" against the Kremlin.

Putin's government also warned that it would take similar retaliatory action against the U.S. for any expulsions of its nationals working in the U.S.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired a day after breaking ranks with the White House, accusing Russia of being behind the attempted assassination.

Tillerson called the attack a "really egregious act."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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