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US embassy in Russia refuses to comment on diplomatic personnel reduction process

August 15, 21:29 updated at: August 15, 21:36 UTC+3 MOSCOW

On July 28, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Washington should equal the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working in the US Embassies in Russia

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MOSCOW, August 15. /TASS/. The United States’ embassy in Moscow has refused to comment on the process of staff reduction.

"Broadly speaking, we don’t publicly discuss internal operations of the U.S. Embassy or consulates," Maria Olson, the embassy’s spokesperson, told TASS on Tuesday.

Olson said that the Department of State would continue quickly processing visa applications from Russian citizens to solve urgent issues.

"The Department will continue to monitor appointment wait times, and provide expedited appointments for students and in cases of urgent business, medical, and humanitarian travel," the diplomat said.

She pointed out that "visa demand is cyclical, not uniform throughout the year, and affected by various factors at the local and international level." "Visa issuance numbers tend to increase during peak travel seasons, such as during the summer and the winter holidays." Upon that, according to the embassy’s spokesperson, "there may be different trends at the country, nationality, or visa-category level" in processing visa applications.

She also reiterated that "in accordance with the President’s March 6, 2017 Memorandum on enhancing the security of visa processing, the State Department made worldwide adjustments in visa screening requirements earlier this year." "They apply where a consular officer determines that such information is required to confirm identity or resolve questions about security. Those changes affect only a fraction of one percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide," Olson added.

After the voting at the US Congress on further anti-Russian sanctions, Moscow demanded that by September 1 Washington reduce the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US embassy in Moscow and its consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, in order to match the number of Russian diplomatic personnel working in the United States. It means that the total number of US diplomatic personnel is to be cut to 455.

After a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of ASEAN events in Manila on August 7, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said his country "had not made a decision regarding how we will respond to Russia’s request to remove U.S. diplomatic personnel" but pledged Washington would respond by September 1.

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