AP sources: US, Russia diplomats to meet despite tensions

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By MATTHEW LEE

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senior U.S. and Russian envoys are to meet next week in Scandinavia in a bid to calm escalating diplomatic tensions that have sparked a return to Cold War-era animosity, U.S. officials said Friday.

The State Department’s third-ranking official, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon, will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Finland with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Shannon and Ryabkov have held several rounds of talks since earlier this year focused on resolving irritants in U.S.-Russian relations, including the tit-for-tat closures of diplomatic missions and expulsions of diplomats. Next week’s talks are planned to cover those irritants as well as broader strategic relations and arms control issues, the officials said.

The officials were not authorized to discuss the meetings publicly ahead of a formal announcement that is expected on Saturday and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Next week’s talks come amid escalating U.S.-Russia disputes that have seen the closure of diplomatic compounds and expulsions of diplomats.

Last week, in response to a Russian order to reduce its America’s diplomatic presence in Russia by several hundred people, the U.S. ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two annexes in Washington and New York. Those actions followed the U.S seizure of two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York and the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who are expected to meet later this month in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, charged Shannon and Ryabkov earlier this year with exploring ways to resolve bilateral disputes that are hindering broader cooperation on strategic and security issues, such as the war in Syria and the conflict in Ukraine.

Among the top U.S. complaints are the harassment of American government personnel in Russia, a Russian ban on adoptions of children by U.S. families, and Moscow’s halting of plans to construct a new U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. Russia’s complaints include U.S. sanctions imposed after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the seizure of its properties.

Two earlier rounds of talks between Shannon and Ryabkov ended inconclusively.

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