Trump administration weighs returning diplomatic compounds to Russia
Thinkstock/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. and Russia will sit down together again for a high-level meeting to deal with “irritants” in the relationship, amid heightened tension over diplomatic compounds in the U.S. that belong to Russia.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will meet with U.S. Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon in Washington Monday –- the highest level meeting since the two countries’ presidents, Trump and Putin, met at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7.
The top issue on the table for Russia are those diplomatic compounds, or “dachas,” in Maryland and New York. The Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and their families and cut off Russia’s access to the dachas in response to cyber-attacks on the 2016 election. But Russia has been losing its patience with the Trump administration, threatening to retaliate if the compounds are not returned soon.
“It appears that the Russian side has no choice, it is time to retaliate,” the chairman of Russia’s Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee told Sputnik, a Russian state-owned news agency. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took a slightly softer tone, telling reporters that Russia hopes the White House can still find the “political wisdom and political will” to return the dachas.
But the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said any action toward returning the dachas would be “a major affront to Congress.” The Senate has passed new sanctions legislation that would codify existing sanctions, implement new ones and force the Trump administration to seek Congressional approval before it can change any sanctions — including returning the compounds. The legislation is currently awaiting a vote in the House, where it is being held up.
Amid the threats from Russia and strong Congressional opposition, the Trump administration appears to be considering returning the dachas. As deputy assistant to the President, Sebastian Gorka said on CNN last Thursday, “We want to give collaboration, cooperation a chance.”
The White House may ask for something in return. Sputnik reported that a senior White House official told the state-owned agency that the properties would be given back only if it receives something back from Moscow, which Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov blasted as “daytime robbery.”
For the U.S., the set of grievances includes an end to Russian harassment of U.S. diplomats and a lift on the ban of Americans adopting Russian children.
Ryabkov canceled his last scheduled meeting with Shannon in June –- while Shannon was traveling in Europe on his way to St. Petersburg –- because the U.S. announced updated sanctions over Russian aggression in Ukraine a couple days prior. The two men met once before in New York in May as the Trump administration has sought better relations with Moscow.
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