MOSCOW, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Russia is forced to respond to U.S. sanctions while it is still willing to normalize bilateral relations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by phone on Friday.
The conversation came shortly after Moscow earlier in the day announced a reduction in the number of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia and a seizure of two U.S. properties.
These moves were caused by a series of hostile actions by Washington, including "unlawful" sanctions against Russia and "slanderous" accusations against it, said Lavrov, according to a foreign ministry statement.
He said Russia strove to mend bilateral relations and behaved with restraint, but the U.S. policy is in the hands of Russophobic forces, who are pushing Washington to the path of confrontation.
Friday's counter-measures are a forced step that fits into international practice and they are expected to prompt the U.S. side to think about the harmful consequences, Lavrov said.
The minister reiterated that Russia remains ready to normalize relations with the United States and cooperate with it on international issues.
"However, this is possible only on the basis of equality, mutual respect and a balance of interests," he said.
The foreign ministry statement did not disclose Tillerson's remarks during the phone conversation.
In December 2016, 35 Russian diplomats were expelled and two retreats in New York and Maryland used by Russian diplomats for recreation and receptions were closed by the administration of outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama over accusations of alleged Russian hacking during the presidential election.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill slapping tougher sanctions on Russia, two days after the bill was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill will be sent to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign into law or veto.