The Washington Post reports that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has taken steps toward returning two diplomatic compounds that Russia was kicked out of in December.
In a report on May 31, the Post cited several unidentified "people with knowledge" of exchanges between senior U.S. and Russian diplomats over the issue.
President Barack Obama's administration ejected Russian personnel from the compounds -- one in Maryland and one outside New York City -- as part of its response to alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election and mistreatment of U.S. diplomats in Russia. Obama said they were being "used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes."
Russian officials have repeatedly said since that the return of the properties is a condition for improving relations, which remain badly strained despite repeated statements from Trump in 2016 indicating that he would seek improvements.
According to the Post, the Trump administration told Russia in early April that it would consider handing back the properties if Moscow would lift a freeze it imposed in 2014 -- in retaliation for U.S. sanctions over its aggression in Ukraine -- on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a specific plot in St. Petersburg.
Two days later, the Post cited its sources as saying, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate.
When asked on CNN about the potential move, Representative Adam Schiff (Democrat-California) said he would be “horrified” if the compounds were returned to the Russia.
Earlier on Twitter, Schiff wrote that Trump "should not return properties Russians used for espionage that were shuttered after they interfered in our election. Why reward them?”
The Post cited a senior adviser to Tillerson, R.C. Hammond, as saying that "the U.S. and Russia have reached no agreements" on the issue.