Russia demands US return diplomat compounds ahead of talks

Moscow (AFP) – The Kremlin said Washington must unconditionally restore its access to diplomatic compounds in the United States as high-level talks on bilateral problems were set to get underway on Monday.

Russia is angry that Washington is still barring its diplomats from using two compounds in the states of New York and Maryland.

The then president, Barack Obama, in December ordered the ban in response to suspected Russian meddling in the US election.

“We consider it absolutely unacceptable to place conditions on the return of diplomatic property, we consider that it must be returned without any conditions and talking,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

When President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Donald Trump met for the first time at the G20 summit in Hamburg this month, the Kremlin strongman raised the question of the diplomatic sites “quite unambiguously,” Peskov said.

He added that “we still hope our American colleagues will show political wisdom and political will.”

The row was set to be high on the agenda at talks in Washington Monday between Thomas Shannon, the US State Department’s No. 3, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Those talks had been scheduled for June, but Russia cancelled them at the time, citing new US sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

The US side is seeking “areas that we could deal with some of these so-called irritants,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week.

The issues of Ukraine and Syria were also on the agenda, according to US diplomats.

– ‘Counter actions’ –

Obama announced the US was shutting down residential complexes in December at the same time as he expelled 35 Russian diplomats for spying.

He said the measures were in response to US intelligence reports of Russian hacking and an alleged influence campaign to sway the US presidential election in Trump’s favour, describing the compounds as used by Moscow for “intelligence-related purposes.”

At the time Putin held off…

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