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Ahead Of Meeting, Russia Presses For Access To Diplomatic Compounds

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov (right) made their comments ahead of a scheduled meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon. (file photo)

Russia is again calling on the United States to restore its access to two diplomatic compounds that were seized in December by then-President Barack Obama's administration.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke on July 17, hours ahead of a scheduled meeting in Washington between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon.

"We still hope that our American colleagues will demonstrate a certain political wisdom and political will," Peskov told a conference call with reporters when asked about the dispute.

Obama ordered the seizure of the diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York State, as well as the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, in response to what he said was their involvement in efforts to influence the election of his successor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised many in both countries by declining to retaliate -- a gesture to then-President-elect Donald Trump, who had repeatedly indicated during the campaign that he would seek to improve ties with Moscow.

But relations remain tense amid multiple investigations into what the U.S. intelligence community says was an "influence campaign" ordered by Putin in an attempt to help Trump and denigrate his Democratic rival on the November 8 ballot, Hillary Clinton.

Russian officials have repeatedly called for the unconditional restoration of access to the diplomatic compounds, saying Moscow's patience is running out.

They have threatened to retaliate and indicated their actions may depend on the outcome of the meeting between Shannon and Ryabkov.

'Daylight Robbery'

Peskov said that any U.S. preconditions for the return of the property would be unacceptable for Moscow, and that Washington's actions contradicted international law.

"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," he said.

Lavrov, speaking during a visit to Belarus, said that what he called U.S. attempts to set preconditions amounted to "daylight robbery."

He also said that "anti-Russian feeling" in the United States meant it was not certain that Moscow and Washington could agree on key global issues.

Obama sought to "reset" troubled relations with Moscow after he entered office in 2009, but ties were badly strained by Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and support for separatists whose war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014, among other issues.

Relations were further damaged by Moscow's alleged interference in the U.S. election.

The talks between Ryabkov and Shannon, the undersecretary for political affairs, had been scheduled for June but Russia cancelled them, citing new U.S. sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, TASS, and Interfax
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