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United States Expels Four Russians Accused of Spying

By Mike Allen and Steven Mufson

The State Department on Thursday morning announced that four suspected Russian spies must leave the country within 10 days and another 46 must leave by July 1. The four ordered out immediately, as well as two others who have already left the country and would not be welcomed back, had ties to Robert Hanssen, the veteran FBI counterintelligence agent charged with spying for Moscow.

The Russian Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov was given details of the expulsions, the largest since President Reagan ordered the ouster of 80 Soviet diplomats in 1986, Thursday morning at the State Department.

President Bush later said the United States “made the right decision” on the expulsions. “I was presented with the facts; I made the decision; it was the right thing to do. And having said that, I believe that we’ll have a good working relationship with the Russians,” the president told reporters.

Meanwhile, the administration said Thursday that the expulsion of the suspected Russian spies is a sign of a new “realism” that the president plans to bring to relations with the nation’s adversaries.

“The president believes the proper way to conduct foreign relations is to work together productively and fruitfully in areas where we can, and there are many such with Russia, but to be realistic about any of the problems in the relationship and to take action as necessary and required,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said at a briefing Thursday morning.

Fleischer repeated that Bush’s relations with Russia and other countries will be “marked by realism, by reality -- he will deal with events in a serious and realistic action.”

“Concerns have been raised with the Russians for many years about the level and the presence of intelligence officers in this country,” Fleischer said. “The State Department yesterday asked a certain number of Russians to leave and declared them persona non grata.”

The action follows the arrest last month of Hanssen on charges of spying for Moscow. “This is in regard to the Hanssen case and it is an expression from the United States about the level of, and the number of intelligence officers that Russia has in the United States,” Fleischer said.

At the State Department, John Beyrle, the acting special ambassador for Newly Independent States, told the Russian ambassador Thursday morning that four accredited Russian diplomats had 10 days to leave the country. All four had been implicated in the Hanssen investigation, the State Department said. Another State Department official told reporters that two other Russian diplomats who left the United States in the past week had also been “associated” with the Hanssen case and were “not welcome back.”

In addition, Beyrle told the Russian ambassador that 46 other Russian diplomats -- all alleged intelligence officers -- must leave by July 1. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that this was done “to address our longstanding concerns about the level of their intelligence presence in the United States.”

A State Department official said that while Russia reduced the number of its intelligence agents in 1991 immediately after the end of the Cold War, that from 1993 to 1997 it built up the numbers of agents again and kept them at high levels despite U.S. complaints.