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US Expels Ecuadorian Envoy in WikiLeaks Affair

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The United States on Thursday expelled Ecuador’s ambassador to Washington in another step in a diplomatic dispute spurred by a leaked U.S. State Department cable.  Ecuador expelled the U.S. envoy to Quito earlier this week.  

The State Department says it has ordered Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos to leave the country as soon as possible in the latest diplomatic fallout from the WikiLeaks  disclosure of classified U.S. diplomatic cables.

The action follows Ecuador’s expulsion on Tuesday of U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges over the contents of an alleged U.S. State Department document released by the activist website.

Since last year, the State Department has refused to discuss the contents of the thousands of classified cables published by WikiLeaks .

But the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which reported on the document on Ecuador, said that in it, U.S. envoy Hodges accused the country’s now-retired national police chief of corruption and suggested that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was aware of his crimes.

State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that Ecuador’s "unjustified" action against Ambassador Hodges left the United States with no option but to reciprocate.

"We’re interested in a positive relationship with Ecuador, but the regrettable and unwarranted decision to declare Ambassador Hodges persona non grata is going to be taken into account as we move forward in the relationship," he said,

Toner said the United States has also suspended plans for a high-level dialogue with Ecuador in June that had been agreed to during a visit to Quito by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year.

The United States has had a difficult relationship with Ecuador’s left-leaning President Correa, who in 2009 ended a deal under which U.S. surveillance planes used an Ecuadorian air base for anti-drug operations.

Clinton’s meeting with Mr. Correa last June appeared to put the bilateral relationship on a better footing, but analysts say the tit-for-tat expulsions are a setback.

Ray Walser, a senior analyst on Latin America at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, says Mr. Correa’s expulsion of the U.S. diplomat was in keeping with what he says is a pattern of rash behavior that included allegations of U.S. involvement in a confrontation between the Ecuadorian leader and security forces last September.

"It’s a temperamental response from Correa.  I think this was a personal decision.  He has a kind of shoot-from-the-hip [i.e., to act or speak hastily without consideration of the consequences] approach, I think if people have watched his style over time.  And this looks like one of those occasions when he decided to shoot-from-the-hip and didn’t care about the consequences," Walser said.

Walser said the diplomatic dispute  is a setback to U.S. efforts to move Ecuador’s leader away from the political orbit of Venezuela’s populist President Hugo Chavez.  He said this had yielded some successes, including steps by Mr. Correa to repair damage to Ecuador’s relations with U.S. regional ally Colombia.

The open diplomatic spat with Ecuador is the second between the United States and a Latin American country in two weeks related to WikiLeaks disclosures.

Late last month, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pasqual resigned his post after a public dispute with Mexican President Felipe Calderon fueled by alleged cables from the U.S. envoy that were critical of Mexico’s handling of its war against drug cartels.

The Heritage Foundation’s Ray Walser says both leaks harmed U.S. interests, although the issue with Mexico is more serious.

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