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Russia to expel U.S. diplomats


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Comparisons to Cold War

Hanssen could face death penalty

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WASHINGTON -- Eliciting an angry, tit-for-tat response from Moscow, the United States Thursday ordered four Russian diplomats to leave the country, saying they were implicated in the case of accused spy Robert Hanssen.

The State Department also said another 46 diplomats not directly tied to that scandal 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."

"We are looking into exactly what happens and who's involved," said Gennady Selyeznov, chairman of the State Duma, Russia's parliament. "Believe me, if they do this, we will find a reason to expel exactly the same number of diplomats who won't be working in Moscow anymore."

U.S. President George W. Bush said on Thursday that he would discuss the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders meet at the G7+1 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."

Two other diplomats accused in the Hanssen matter -- including Vladimir Frolov, the Russian Embassy press attache who, according to U.S. intelligence sources, was Hanssen's handler -- had already left the country.

Comparisons to Cold War

In the first official reaction from Moscow, President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said Russia deeply regretted the move.

"Any campaign of spy mania and searching for enemies brings deep regret," he said. "This is a fallback to the Cold War epoch."

But White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush's policy was based on realism.

"Clearly the Cold War ended 10 years go," Fleischer said. "But the level of Russian intelligence officers in the U.S. is at a high level and has been a source of concern for the Clinton administration and for President George W. Bush's administration, and President George W. Bush took action."

Bush defends his decision Thursday to ask Russian diplomats to leave the country  

Fleischer said officials began considering their response to the Hanssen affair immediately after the FBI agent's arrest, and that Bush authorized the expulsions last week.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell summoned Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov to the State Department to inform him of the decision to expel the four and of the plans to expel an additional 46 Russian diplomats.

"The Department of State notified the Russian Embassy that four of its accredited diplomats have been declared persona non grata in the United States and should leave the country forthwith," spokesman Richard Boucher said.

None of the other diplomats are thought to have any connection with the Hanssen affair.

Hanssen could face death penalty

The Hanssen affair sent shock waves through the U.S. intelligence community.

An FBI veteran of 25 years, Hanssen is accused of spying for the Soviet Union, and later Russia, over a period of 15 years.

Prosecutors and FBI officials say he was paid $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for passing top-secret information. He was arrested on February 18 in a northern Virginia park, moments after he dropped a package underneath a footbridge, prosecutors said.

Among other things, investigators believe he may have told Russians about a secret surveillance tunnel under the then-Soviet Embassy -- now the Russian Embassy -- in Washington.

Hanssen is to appear at a preliminary hearing on May 21. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.

CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace, Correspondent Steve Harrigan and Reuters contributed to this report.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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