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Trump angers US diplomats by thanking Putin for expulsions

His remarks ran into furious criticism from former and current employees of America’s vast diplomatic service.

world Updated: Aug 11, 2017 19:46 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,Vladimir Putin,Kremlin
Donald Trump and Mike Pence in Bedminster, New Jersey on August 10, 2017.(Reuters)

US President Donald Trump added a new dimension on Thursday to the decades-old tradition of countries expelling diplomats and cutting mission staff to sanction the target nation. He thanked Russia for recently ordering a drastic downsizing of the American mission, saying it would help him cut the salary bill.

“I want to thank him (Russian President Vladimir Putin) because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump replied to a question about the recent order from Kremlin to cut US mission in Moscow by 755 personnel. “I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.”

His remarks ran into furious criticism from former and current employees of America’s vast diplomatic service.

“As a Foreign Service veteran, I find it lamentable that our great career diplomats are treated with such disrespect by their President,” Nicholas Burns, a senior Bush administration diplomat who played a critical role in the India-US nuclear deal, tweeted.

Some Trump allies and supporters hastened to push back against the roiling controversy to claim Trump was joking, which seemed like another desperate attempt by his aides to explain him or reel back his unscripted forays into policy and personnel areas not familiar to him and his team of inexperienced advisers.

Burns had a response to that too: “A shameful statement by Pres. (president) Trump. He justifies mistreatment of US diplomats by (Russian president Vladimir) Putin. If he was joking, it shows his true character.”

Others, mostly Trump allies, suggested Trump was trying to “punk” Putin. But Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia, was brutally realistic about the prospects: “Punk Putin?! Cmon man ! I know Putin. He is not punked by these silly comments. Putin will see Trumps comments as another sign of weakness.”

Kremlin ordered the downsizing last month in a delayed retaliatory action to former President Barrack Obama expelling 35 Russian diplomats in December for alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.

Trump is irritated by any suggestion that his victory was anything but his and has pushed back against the Russia interference narrative as something that takes away from his victory and something the questions his legitimacy as president.

But thanking Putin for the downsizing could cost him whatever equity he had with those dealing with Russia, especially those at the state department, where Russia is still viewed suspiciously through the lens of the cold war and its nakedly aggressive posture against its smaller neighbours such as Ukraine.

First Published: Aug 11, 2017 19:46 IST