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UN chief following US decision to expel Russian diplomats

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is closely following the US government’s decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats and will engage “as required” with the governments concerned, a UN spokesperson has said.

“We have seen the announcement by the US Government of its decision to take action against the certain diplomats of the Russian Federation in the US,” Deputy UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters at the daily press briefing on Monday.

He said he can confirm that the United States Mission to the UN informed the UN Secretariat of its decision to take action under Section 13(b) of the UN-US Headquarters Agreement with respect to certain members of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the United Nations.

“This action may require those members to leave the country,” Haq said, adding that the world body will not comment further on the issue at this stage due to the “sensitivity” of the ongoing matter. He added that the Secretary General will closely follow the matter and engage as appropriate with the governments concerned.

The Trump administration ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians from the US, following similar actions taken by other countries in the wake of the allegation by the United Kingdom that Russia was behind an attack using a deadly nerve-agent in Salisbury on March 4 that left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, hospitalized in critical condition.

Of the 60 expelled, 12 are intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission to the United Nations who have been accused of abusing their privilege of residence in the United States.

“After a review, we have determined that the 12 intelligence operatives engaged in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security. Our actions are consistent with the United Nations Headquarters Agreement,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said. She slammed Russia for its “destabilizing behaviour” across the world, such as its participation in the atrocities in Syria and its illegal actions in Ukraine, saying it has now used a chemical weapon within the borders of one of Washington’s closest allies.

“Here in New York, Russia uses the United Nations as a safe haven for dangerous activities within our own borders,” she said.

On March 14, the UK brought the charge before an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, where Haley said that the US stood in solidarity with the UK in denouncing the “crime” and believed Russia had been responsible for the attack. At the same meeting, both Russia and the UK said the incident should be investigated by the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN-backed body which works to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and eliminate chemical weapons use, and the threat of their use.

The UK Foreign Ministry announced later that independent investigators from the OPCW were due to arrive in the UK to kick off their probe into the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack.

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