Diplomats from US, Russia hold 'tough' talks: US State Department

Thomas Shannon speaks during a Conference on US-Turkey Relations in Washington DC.
Thomas Shannon speaks during a Conference on US-Turkey Relations in Washington DC.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Senior diplomats from Washington and Moscow held a "tough, forthright" conversation concerning bilateral tensions, the State Department said on Tuesday (July 18), including over Russian access to diplomatic compounds in the US.

That spat was high on the agenda at Monday's talks in Washington between Thomas Shannon, the US State Department's No. 3, and Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov.

The Kremlin has demanded Washington restore diplomatic access to two compounds in the states of New York and Maryland, which the Obama administration restricted in December following initial suspicions of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.

"The conversation was tough, forthright, and deliberate, reflecting both parties' commitment to a resolution," the State Department said of Monday's talks.

"The United States and Russia seek a long-term solution that would address areas of bilateral concern that have strained the relationship."

"The talks reflected a spirit of goodwill, but it is clear that more work needs to be done." The meeting, which lasted three hours, had originally been scheduled for June, but Moscow had cancelled it over new US sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

After the meeting Ryabkov, asked by journalists if the issue of the diplomatic compounds had been resolved, replied: "Almost, almost."

The development came as the White House it was nominating former Utah governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia.

Huntsman previously served as US ambassador to Singapore and China.

In December then president Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats for suspected spying and ordered the residential complexes shut down.

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," Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Putin had initially abstained from evening the score of the diplomatic row, awaiting the Trump administration's response.

News broke late Tuesday (July 18) that both men had an additional, previously undisclosed chat at this month's G20 summit in Hamburg,

After a brief greeting at the start of the two-day summit and a two-hour bilateral meeting with their foreign ministers on July 7, Trump and Putin also chatted over dinner on the final night of the summit, a White House official said.

A second White House official denied there was a "second meeting" between Trump and Putin, describing a "brief conversation at the end of a dinner." "The insinuation that the White House has tried to 'hide' a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd," the official said.

The White House also rejected concerns that Trump was not with any other US officials and used Putin's translator. "Each couple was allowed one translator. The American translator accompanying President Trump spoke Japanese. When President Trump spoke to President Putin, the two leaders used the Russian translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian."

The latest development is expected to further complicate White House's efforts to contain the snowballing scandal over possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

Russia has now threatened to take belated "counter actions" in retaliation to the US measures.