12 Jan 2018 - 20:43
Was the sale of the US embassy in London a ‘bad deal’ done for peanuts?
LONDON: U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled a trip to London scheduled for next month to open a new embassy, blaming Barack Obama for selling off the old one for “peanuts” in a bad deal.
The American flag was this month removed from the U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square as part of the move to a location on the South Bank in a $1 billion construction project.
Here are some details of the buildings:
WHAT DID DONALD TRUMP SAY?
“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!”
WHERE WAS THE OLD EMBASSY?
The old United States Embassy in London was situated on a historic square in the exclusive Mayfair neighbourhood, 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.
The embassy, topped by a gilded bald eagle with a wingspan of more than 11 metres, opened in 1960 and was designed by the Finnish-American modernist Eero Saarinen.
The embassy was also a focus for British discontent with U.S. policy. Anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s drew thousand of Britons, including celebrities of the day like Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
WHEN DID THE UNITED STATES DECIDE TO MOVE THE EMBASSY?
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.
The U.S. State Department ran a competition to design the new building in 2008. Its $1 billion construction was wholly funded by the sale of other properties in London. It will open to the public later this month.
WHY DID THE UNITED STATES MOVE ITS EMBASSY?
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.
WHEN DID THE UNITED STATES SELL THE OLD EMBASSY?
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.
Local media reported the old building was sold for 500 million pounds. Reuters has not been able to independently verify the valuation.
The investors are now planning to turn the site into a luxury hotel with shops, restaurants and bars.
(Compiled by Costas Pitas and Andrew MacAskill; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, William Maclean)