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US expels Ecuador ambassador in tit-for-tat move

The United States on Thursday ordered the expulsion of Ecuador's ambassador to Washington in a tit-for-tat move after the US envoy to Quito was told to leave over a leaked diplomatic cable.

The United States on Thursday ordered the expulsion of Ecuador's ambassador to Washington Luis Gallegos, seen here in 2005, in a tit-for-tat move after the US envoy to Quito was told to leave over a leaked diplomatic cable.

Ambassador Luis Gallegos was summoned to the State Department, which declared him persona non grata and asked him to leave the United States as soon as possible, State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet told AFP.

Ecuador on Tuesday ordered US Ambassador Heather Hodges out of the country in a row over a leaked diplomatic cable that quoted her as saying President Rafael Correa knowingly appointed a corrupt chief of police.

"The unjustified action of the Ecuadorian government in declaring Ambassador Hodges persona non grata left us no other option than this reciprocal action," Luoma-Overstreet said in an email.

"Ambassador Hodges is one of our most experienced and talented diplomats," he said.

The United States is "also suspending the bilateral dialogue, which had been scheduled for June," he said.

Washington "is interested in a positive relationship with Ecuador, but the regrettable and unwarranted decision to declare Ambassador Hodges persona non grata will have to be taken into account going forward," he added.

The row comes nearly a year after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Ecuador's leftist Correa in Quito as part of efforts to drive a wedge between him and Venezuela's anti-American firebrand Hugo Chavez.

Clinton said during her visit that Washington was "committed to a partnership of open dialogue and cooperation."

Ecuador expressed confidence Thursday that the two countries will overcome the diplomatic spat.

In Quito, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino described Washington's reactions as "normal diplomatic procedures."

"We hope that in a few weeks we can resume the dialogue," Patino said.

Patino said Arturo Valenzuela, the US deputy secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, informed Gallegos of the US decision.

The dispute comes as Quito tries to renew a treaty with the United States that allowed for massive tax breaks on Ecuadorian products entering the US market.

The "ATPDA" treaty, signed in 2002, recently expired and its renewal is still under discussion. Last year, Ecuador's exports to the United States were valued at $6 billion.

US exports to Ecuador in 2010 were estimated at $5.1 billion.

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