Facts on US embassy move in London

After cancelling a visit to London to open the  new US embassy Donald Trump said:

“Reason I cancelled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”

Reuters looks at the facts in Was the sale of the U.S. embassy in London a ‘bad deal’ done for peanuts?

The old United States Embassy in London…

…was situated on a historic square in the exclusive Mayfair neighborhood, home to some of the city’s most valuable real estate.

The U.S. embassy has been based on the square since 1938 and the area was known as “Little America” during World War Two as General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military headquarters were housed on the square.

 

In 2008, when George W. Bush was president…

…the United States signed a conditional agreement to acquire a site for the construction of a new embassy in the Nine Elms area of Wandsworth, southwest London.

The new 12-storey building on the south bank of the river is at the heart of a huge regeneration project in a former industrial zone.

In 2009…

…the US embassy building in Mayfair was listed as a Grade II building including for “special architectural interest for the strongly-articulated design and dynamic facades, well-detailed stonework and consistency of detail.”

This would make it difficult to make certain alterations to the building and can reduce the value of properties.

Lydia Muniz, director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations at the State Department, told the New York Times in 2015 that renovating the building would have cost $730 million and still would not have provided state-of-the-art security.

In 2009, when Barack Obama was president…

…the United States agreed to sell its embassy in Mayfair to the Gulf investor Qatari Diar for an undisclosed sum to help fund a new embassy.

The embassy says the new building was funded entirely by the proceeds of the sale of other U.S. government properties in London, not through appropriated funds.

So the old embassy wasn’t sold ‘for peanuts’.

The move was planned while George W Bush was president.

Washington Post adds: ‘As usual, he’s dead wrong’: Former U.S. ambassadors explain London Embassy move after Trump criticism

“As usual, he’s dead wrong,” said former ambassador Louis Susman, who served under the Obama administration between 2009 and 2013. “He’s 100 percent wrong.”

“We didn’t have a choice,” Susman said. “We had to move.”

The decision to move the embassy came down to practical concerns, the most important of which was safety. After the al-Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, the State Department imposed new safety standards that required embassies to be set back 100 feet from any adjacent roads due to the risk of car bombs and other attacks.

For embassies that were in densely populated neighborhoods like Mayfair, that posed a major problem and often necessitated a move.

The Grosvenor Square building was a particular problem. Not only was it a listed building, meaning that any alterations to its structure required approval from the British government, it is also in a dense area full of residential buildings. There were often long lines outside the building, and neighbors began to complain about the threat to their homes.

Bob Tuttle, who was served as U.S. ambassador to Britain from 2005 to 2009, said that when he was prepping for his confirmation hearing, it became apparent to him the embassy would need to move.

“There were two narrow side streets by the embassy. They are very slim, and if someone came down there with a truck, a la the Oklahoma City bombing, it would not only blow up half the embassy and kill half the people in it but it would also kill half the people in nearby residences.”

Realizing the high value of the properties, Tuttle said a decision was made to sell the 999-year lease to the embassy building.

Though Trump blamed the Obama administration for the “bad deal,” much of the work was done by Tuttle — a political appointee under the Bush administration.

Tuttle would go on to take the lead in finding a new location for an embassy, eventually looking at 60 to 70 different possibilities, while his Obama-appointed predecessor Susman arranged most of construction of the new building

“I’m very proud of what we did, and I think we did the right thing,” Tuttle said.

And the ambassador appointed by Trump also supports the move.

ROBERT JOHNSON US Ambassador (Evening Standard):  Our Nine Elms US embassy is the most advanced we’ve ever built

I agree with President Trump that Grosvenor Square, in the heart of London, was a perfect location for our embassy. Security concerns after September 11 meant we had to move to a location that could better protect American citizens and our British neighbours.

On Tuesday we will open the doors of our brand-new embassy to the general public in Nine Elms, a site selected under a previous administration.

…the new embassy is not just bigger, it is better and capable of meeting the complex challenges of the 21st century and beyond. It is the most secure, hi-tech and environmentally friendly embassy that the United States has ever built.

That couldn’t have been achieved in the old embassy building.

Purchased and built from the sale of our London properties, the new embassy did not cost the US taxpayer a cent. Yet is one of the most advanced embassies we have ever built.

That’s not an accident. The United States is re-investing in the Special Relationship. President Trump has told me he views the UK as one of the closest friends and partners of the American people we serve. Our new embassy reflects not just America’s special history with the UK but the special future ahead of us as we advance the prosperity and security of both our nations.

But not special enough for Trump to attend the official opening.