President Bush yesterday strongly backed the expulsion of more than 50 Russian diplomats and said he was “confident that we can have good relations with the Russians” even as Moscow vowed to retaliate.

“I was presented with the facts, I made the decision, it was the right thing to do,” Bush said.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov promised an “adequate” response within hours of learning that the State Department had ordered the immediate expulsion of four diplomats suspected of being intelligence officers and had given 46 others until July 1 to leave the United States.

By late last night, the Russians had served no official notice of their intentions. But Ivanov and other senior officials indicated that Moscow would expel an equal number of Americans. Asked by CNN when U.S. diplomats would have to leave Russia, Ivanov replied: “You won”t have to wait long.”

Ivanov also warned against “those who are trying to push mankind and the United States back to the epoch of the Cold War.”

A Bush administration official speaking on condition of anonymity said the four Russians who have been declared persona non grata and must leave within 10 days were Washington-based intelligence officers who had been involved in “handling” Robert Hanssen, the veteran FBI agent arrested last month on charges of spying for Moscow since 1985.

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