WASHINGTON, July 18, (Agencies): The Trump administration said Tuesday that more work needs to be done to resolve irritants in the US-Russia relationship, as Moscow stepped up its impatient calls for the return of two seized diplomatic compounds.
The State Department said the latest round of high-level talks, a two-and-a-half hour discussion between Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday, was “tough, forthright and deliberate” and reflected a joint commitment to work out the issues. However, it said no breakthroughs were achieved.
“The United States and Russia seek a long-term solution that would address areas of bilateral concern that have strained the relationship,” the department said in a statement. “The talks reflected a spirit of goodwill, but it is clear that more work needs to be done.”
The aim of the talks is to settle differences that have been hindering cooperation on larger issues, notably the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. The resumption in talks came less than two weeks after President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a highly anticipated first meeting in Germany, an encounter both countries described as a positive first step toward improving relations.
The US wants Moscow to stop harassing American diplomats and to lift a ban on US adoptions of Russian children. Russia wants the US to return the two Cold War-era recreational estates — one in Maryland and one in New York — that former president Barack Obama ordered seized as part of its response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Though Putin declined to retaliate in December for Obama’s action — which also included expelling 35 Russian diplomats the US said were really spies — frustration has mounted in Moscow amid disappointment that Trump has not reversed those actions.
Russia’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, issued a new warning that it might expel American diplomats or shut down US property in Russia if the compounds are not reopened. It said Moscow “reserves the right to reciprocal measures.”
Ryabkov told the Russian news agency Tass that he and Shannon had put forward ideas for reaching a solution but that “it would be an exaggeration to say that we are on the verge of finding a solution and resolving this situation.”
Russian officials have been vocally demanding the return of the two properties, arguing that their seizure is a violation of US property laws.
“Such unacceptable and illegal actions cannot go unanswered,” Ryabkov told Tass. “Nothing is to declare on the issue yet, but we have warned Americans that we need an unconditional return of the property; otherwise, retaliation measures will follow.”
At the same time, pressure has been mounting on the Trump administration not to return the two compounds at least until investigations into the role Russia played in the 2016 election are completed or Russia guarantees it won’t interfere in subsequent elections.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday Moscow reserved the right to take retaliatory measures against the United States after a meeting in Washington ended without a deal on returning seized Russian diplomatic property.
Barack Obama, then US president, ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December over what he said was their involvement in hacking the 2016 US presidential election campaign, something Russia flatly denies.
Moscow has said a lot would depend on the outcome of a meeting in Washington on Monday between Ryabkov and Shannon who discussed the diplomatic row.
But the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday a resolution to the problem had not yet been found.
“The Russian side stressed (in the meeting) that if Washington does not remove this and other irritants, including continued obstacles to the work of our diplomatic institutions, we reserve the right to take retaliatory measures based on the principle of reciprocity,” the statement said.
Russia wanted to resume regular dialogue with the United States about strategic stability too, it said, saying it was up to Washington to make a move on the issue.
“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 Putin and 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.
“We still hope our American colleagues will show political wisdom and political will,” he added.
The row was high on the agenda at talks in Washington on Monday between Shannon, the US State Department’s No. 3, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Obama announced the United States was shutting down the 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 from retaliating, saying he would wait to see how Trump reacted after he came into the White House.
But hope that Trump would follow up on campaign pledges to boost relations have fizzled as any ties to Moscow have become toxic for the White House amid a maelstrom of US investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.