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White House plays down Russia expulsions



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Reacting to Russia's expulsion Friday of 50 U.S. diplomats, a White House official said the Bush administration wants to put the "episode behind us."

"We hope to have good relations with Russia," said a White House official who wished to remain anonymous.

The White House has sought to portray the expulsion of four senior Russian diplomats and 46 others as a reaction to real evidence of spying and the continued threat of Russian spying. The four senior Russian diplomats were linked to the espionage case involving senior FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Phillip Hanssen.

"Our expulsions were a reaction to their huge intelligence presence here," the official said. "We want to put the case behind us and we consider the issue closed."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday said he did not plan to take any further diplomatic action in the matter and that U.S.-Russian relations remained unchanged.


CNN's Major Garrett: Symmetrical Russian expulsions

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CNN's Steve Harrigan: A sign of worsening relations

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Political analyst Sergie Karaganov: "A quasi-crisis"

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"I don't think this really throws us into some new deep thaw," Powell said in an address to a Washington meeting of newspaper editors and publishers. "At the same time all this was unfolding ... and everyone was writing stories about what's going on and how terrible it's going to be, our space command was working with Russian authorities to make sure we all knew where the Mir was going."

Russia's space station Mir crashed into the Pacific early Friday morning without incident.

President Bush left the White House early Friday for Portland, Maine, to stump for his tax and budget proposals. He declined to comment on the expulsion of U.S. diplomats as he boarded Marine One on the White House South Lawn.

The U.S. action came after it accused four Russian diplomats of being implicated in the case of accused spy Hanssen. The State Department also said the other 46 diplomats must leave this summer.

Within hours, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the move forced Russia to match the expulsions. Asked when the U.S. diplomats would leave, he said, "You won't have to wait long."

Bush said on Thursday that he would discuss the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders meet at the G8 summit in July, but added that he believed he "did the right thing."

"I was presented with the facts, I made the decision," Bush said. "It was the right thing to do. Having said that, I believe that we'll have a good working relationship with Russians."

CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett contributed to this report.

Bush defends Russian expulsions
March 23, 2001
Spy climate: Chilly, but not cold
March 22, 2001
Spying game: Recent cases
March 22, 2001
Recalled Russian diplomat said to be Hanssen handler
March 19, 2001
Veteran FBI agent accused of spying for Russia
February 20, 2001

Cold War
U.S. Department of State
Government of the Russian Federation

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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