Trump’s FBI pick to face questions about independence

Wed, 2017-07-12 03:00

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the FBI faces a confirmation hearing Wednesday that will undoubtedly focus on the political tumult surrounding his nomination, with both Democrats and Republicans seeking assurances of his independence from the White House.
Christopher Wray, 50, would inherit the nation’s top law enforcement agency at a particularly challenging time. Trump abruptly fired predecessor James Comey, who was widely admired within the agency, during its investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential election and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.
Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee could delve into Wray’s lengthy legal career that included a stint as a top Justice Department official in the Bush administration and white collar work at an international law firm with several major corporations and banks as clients.
But lawmakers are more likely to drill into Wray’s leadership style and how he would operate under a president who is said to have demanded loyalty from Comey and who has appeared insensitive to the traditionally bright boundary between the White House and the FBI.
Announced as the nominee in a curt, early morning tweet by Trump, and without the pageantry of a Rose Garden ceremony, the hearing will offer the first public, close-up look at Wray’s background.
Those close to him say he’s the right man for the job. Attorneys and FBI agents who have worked with Wray describe him as a steady hand, dedicated and low-key, seemingly impervious to political influence.
An association representing the majority of FBI agents on Monday voiced its support for Wray, saying “he understands the nature of investigative work and the centrality of special agents to the mission of the FBI.”
Bill Mateja, a Dallas attorney who worked with Wray in the Justice Department, said “he has a great moral compass and he’s no one’s minion.”
He also might face questions about his relationships with Comey and Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who’s now serving as special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation. Trump allies have said Mueller’s closeness to Comey shows he can’t lead an unbiased probe. But Trump nominated Wray despite his having worked alongside both men in the Justice Department.
Wray was at the department in 2004 when Comey, then the deputy attorney general, and then-director Mueller threatened to resign during a dispute with the White House over the reauthorization of a domestic surveillance program. Wray stopped Comey in the hallway one night amid resignation rumors with a particular request, according to the 2011 book, “The Threat Matrix.”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you,” Wray is quoted as saying.
Those who know him say that unlike the outspoken Comey, Wray would be a more reserved leader. His reserve could bode well for the agency at a time when its work has been thrust into the center of a political maelstrom.
He has deep experience in Washington, having served as head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in the Bush administration, a position that had him overseeing major criminal prosecutions — such as the special task force investigating the Enron collapse — and also developing the US government’s legal response to terrorism and national security threats.
Civil liberties advocates have urged senators to press him on his involvement in national security matters during that period, when the government authorized harsh interrogation techniques and routinely shipped terrorism suspects captured on foreign battlefields to Guantanamo Bay. Redacted e-mails to and from him are included in an ACLU database of memos on the interrogation and detention of terror suspects.
He also could be grilled about his work over the last decade in private practice at King & Spalding in Atlanta, where he’s defended large corporations and financial institutions in criminal and civil cases. He provided legal services to Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse and fantasy sports providers DraftKings and FanDuel, among other big-name clients, according to ethics documents released Monday. If confirmed, he’ll have to step aside for a year from matters involving those clients and the firm. He also assisted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the so-called Bridgegate scandal.
Still, Mateja predicted “smooth sailing” for Wray.
“Chris is a Republican but he doesn’t wear his politics on his sleeve. He keeps things close to his vest,” Mateja said in a statement. “The public can rest easy that Chris will not be a lackey for Trump.”

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Indian man tries to open plane’s emergency door in midair

Agence France Presse
Wed, 2017-07-12 09:21

NEW DELHI: An Indian man tried to open an emergency exit door on a packed AirAsia flight in midair, injuring fellow passengers and crew members who rushed to restrain him as the plane prepared to land, the airline said.
Following the incident Aftab Ahmed, 32, was detained and handed over to airport security in eastern Ranchi city late Monday.
“AirAsia would like to confirm that the airline encountered an unruly passenger onboard (a) flight… from New Delhi to Ranchi on July 10,” an airline spokesperson said in a statement.
“Upon landing at Ranchi, the unruly passenger was handed over to the CISF (Central Indian Security Force) for further investigation,” it added.
However, officials did not comment on the status of the detained passenger, the exact sequence of events or his possible motives.
A Press Trust of India report said that Ahmed is a resident of Ranchi, the capital of India’s Jharkhand state.
“A man tried to open the emergency door… minutes before landing,” the report said. “He also allegedly injured a few passengers and crew members when they attempted to stop him.”
Monday’s incident came two months after India announced plans to create a national no-fly list of unruly passengers, following cases of controversial politicians abusing flight staff.
The civil aviation ministry proposed banning passengers based on three categories of unruly behavior — ranging from lewd comments and sexual harassment to damaging aircraft and murderous assault.
Depending on the severity of disruption, a passenger could be placed on the no-fly list for anything from three months to an unlimited period.
Ravindra Gaikwad, a lawmaker from western Maharashtra state, made national headlines in March by repeatedly striking a steward on an Air India flight.
In February, a passenger of an Indigo flight, India’s largest budget airline, opened an emergency door just before take-off in Mumbai.
And in 2016, a drunken German tourist pulled a similar stunt after his flight landed in Mumbai, reportedly telling authorities he did it “just for fun.”

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India police warned weeks ago of attack on Hindus in Kashmir

Wed, 2017-07-12 07:28

SRINAGAR, India: As India’s government on Tuesday blamed separatist rebels for gunning down seven Hindu pilgrims and wounding 19 more in Kashmir before fleeing into the night, rebel groups in the disputed region condemned the rare, deadly attack on civilians and insisted they had no part in it.
A memo that was circulated to regional police, military and paramilitary units two weeks ago indicates Indian security officials had been expecting an attack. The memo, marked “top secret,” warned that a “sensational attack by terrorist outfits cannot be ruled out” in the mostly Muslim region.
The memo, dated June 25 and verified as authentic by The Associated Press, said “terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris (pilgrims) and about 100 police.”
It described circumstances eerily similar to what transpired Monday night: “The attack may be in the form of standoff fire on yatra (pilgrimage) convoy, which they (militants) believe will result in flaring of communal tensions throughout the nation.”
Police said the attack began with gunmen unleashing a hail of bullets on an armored police vehicle and, soon after, on a nearby police patrol. They said that a bus carrying 60 Hindu pilgrims had been passing through the area when the patrolling police and militants were exchanging fire, and that some bullets struck the bus and its passengers.
The police also said that the bus had been traveling at night, despite instructions to avoid the roads after dark. Though security had been increased along the route for the pilgrimage, the thousands of deployed soldiers and police do not patrol overnight.
Several bus passengers who were wounded gave a different version of events, saying the bus had been targeted from three directions during the attack. They said the driver kept driving the bus as it was being struck with bullets near the southern town of Anantnag on the main highway linking Kashmir with the rest of India.
The annual summer pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine, which began June 29 under heavy security, has been targeted in the past. Opponents of Indian rule in Kashmir accuse Hindu-majority India of using the pilgrimage as a political statement to bolster its claim to the disputed region.
On Tuesday, thousands of Hindus continued the religious pilgrimage undeterred, as Indian soldiers and police increased security along the Himalayan route for buses carrying pilgrims to the base camps where they start walking the path to the high mountain cave.
None of the rebel groups fighting to oust India from the mostly Muslim region has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the three top separatist leaders in Kashmir condemned it.
They demanded an independent investigation into the attack.
“This incident goes against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos,” the separatist leaders — Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammed Yasin Malik — said in a joint statement.
Police were searching for the assailants, who they said were from the Pakistan-based rebel group Lashkar-e-Taiba. India also blames the group for a 2008 attack that left 166 people dead in India’s commercial capital of Mumbai.
“We’re investigating the attack, but we know certainly that the Lashkar has done it. We’ll soon deal with them,” police Inspector-General Muneer Ahmed Khan said.
Lashkar-e-Taiba denied any involvement in the attack, which they called “reprehensible” and “un-Islamic,” according to a statement sent to local media in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Backlash feared
The group said India was behind the attack, “to sabotage the freedom struggle of Kashmiris” and fulfill “its nefarious agenda” to crush the popular anti-India rebellion.
“No Kashmiri has ever targeted any pilgrims, and this barbarity and atrocity is the trademark of Indian forces,” the group’s statement said.
Residents said they were afraid of a possible backlash by Hindu nationalists and Indian forces against Kashmiris elsewhere in India.
“My two brothers are studying in India,” school teacher Shagufta Kaunsar said. “I don’t know if it’s really safe for them there. We’re already telling them to come back home.”
Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Kashmir, asked India’s home ministry to protect Kashmiri students and workers across the nation. “Possibility of backlash can’t be ignored,” he said in a Twitter message.
Most of the pilgrims wounded in the attack were released from hospitals on Tuesday. The bodies of those killed were flown to New Delhi on their way to the pilgrims’ west Indian states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The attack sparked outrage across Kashmir and much of India.
In the Jammu region of Kashmir, which is dominated by Hindus, hundreds of protesters shouted angry slogans against the militants and burned a faceless effigy meant to represent both terrorism and Pakistan, which India blames for supporting the rebels. Many shops and businesses were shuttered for a protest strike in Jammu.
Meanwhile, students in the Gujarati city of Ahmadabad gathered for a sit-in to protest all religious violence, while peace activists planned a candlelight vigil in New Delhi on Tuesday night.
The Press Trust of India news agency said the last major attack on Amarnath pilgrims occurred in 2000, when gunmen killed 30 people in the Pahalgam area, including local porters carrying pilgrim’s baggage up the mountain path.

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China sends troops to Djibouti for opening of military base

Wed, 2017-07-12 08:00

BEIJING: Ships carrying Chinese military personnel for Beijing’s first overseas military base, in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, have left China to begin setting up the facility, state news agency Xinhua has reported.
Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worries in India that it would become another of China’s “string of pearls” of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
China began construction of a logistics base in strategically located Djibouti last year that will resupply naval vessels taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, in particular.
This will be China’s first overseas naval base, although Beijing officially terms it a logistics facility.
Xinhua said in a short report late on Tuesday the ships had departed from Zhanjiang in southern China “to set up a support base in Djibouti.”
Navy commander Shen Jinlong “read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti.”
It did not say when the base might formally begin operations.
Xinhua said the establishment of the base was a decision made by both countries after “friendly negotiations, and accords with the common interest of the people from both sides.”
“The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia,” it said.
“The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways,” it said.
Djibouti, which is about the size of Wales, is located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal. The tiny, barren nation sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia also hosts US, Japanese and French bases.
There has been persistent speculation in diplomatic circles that China would build other such bases, in Pakistan for example, but the government has dismissed this. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard)

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Trump Jr.’s Russia e-mails could trigger probe under election law

Jan Wolfe | Reuters
Wed, 2017-07-12 06:01

NEW YORK: Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that could help his father’s presidential campaign could lead investigators to probe whether he violated US election law, experts said.
Trump Jr. met the woman, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, on June 9, 2016, after an e-mail exchange with an intermediary.
The e-mails, tweeted by Trump Jr. on Tuesday, could provide material for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
In one of the e-mails dated June 3, 2016, Trump Jr. wrote: “If it’s what you say I love it.” He released the tweets after the New York Times said it planned to write about their contents and sought his comment.
Trump Jr. said in his tweets that nothing came of the meeting. Veselnitskaya told NBC News early on Tuesday she was not affiliated with the Russian government and had passed no information.
“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. said in an interview on Fox News. “For me, this was opposition research.”
Collusion itself is not an actual crime under the US criminal code, so prosecutors would look to see if Trump Jr.’s conduct ran afoul of a specific law, legal experts said.
Moscow has denied interference in the US election, and President Donald Trump has said his campaign did not collude with Russia.
Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.

Federal election campaign act
One law that might come into play is the Federal Election Campaign Act, which makes it illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a US political campaign. The campaign is also prohibited from soliciting such contributions.
A contribution does not have to be monetary in nature, according to Paul S. Ryan, an attorney with watchdog group Common Cause. He said incriminating information about Clinton could be considered a contribution under the act.
Ryan said Trump Jr.’s “enthusiastic response” to the offer for information and particularly his proposal in his e-mail to have a follow-up call the next week constituted “solicitation.”
“That to me is an indication, a concession by Donald Trump Jr. that he wants and is requesting this information,” Ryan said.
Joshua Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, said Trump Jr.’s e-mails made it “more plausible” that there could be a criminal case against him.
James Gardner, an election law expert at the University of Buffalo Law School, said the election law was intended to target donations of cash or goods and services.
He said he did not believe Trump Jr. would have violated the law if he solicited damaging information about Clinton.
A federal law known as the general conspiracy statute that makes it illegal to conspire to commit a crime against or defraud the United States could also come into play if, for example, Trump Jr. tried to help Russians hack into US computer networks. There was no indication that Trump Jr. did such a thing.
Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School who was associate counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office under former Democratic President Barack Obama, said he thought Trump Jr.’s agreeing to meet with someone to discuss an illegal act would be enough to trigger a conspiracy charge.
“It’s a very powerful tool,” he said.

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Abort! Airliner nearly lands on other San Francisco planes

Tue, 2017-07-11 06:00

SAN FRANCISCO: The pilot of an Air Canada plane carrying 140 passengers made a last-minute maneuver to avoid landing on a taxiway at San Francisco International Airport where four passenger jets were lined up to take off.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it is investigating why the pilot mistakenly made his approach toward the taxiway instead of the runway just to the left. An air traffic controller ordered the Airbus 320 to abort and circle for another landing, which it did without incident Friday night.
Aviation-safety consultant Todd Curtis said it was “definitely a serious event since a landing on an active taxiway could lead to a catastrophic accident.”
In audio posted on, which records flight communications, the pilot on the plane from Toronto and the air traffic controller sounded calm as the close call unfolded.
At first, the pilot said he sees “some lights on the runway,” apparently alluding to planes on the taxiway, the aviation equivalent of feeder roads that planes use to roll between runways and terminals.
The controller assures the pilot there is no one on the runway. Seconds later, another voice — apparently one of the pilots on the taxiway — interjects, “Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway.”
The controller orders the Air Canada jet to “go around,” and the pilot acknowledges the command.
Roughly 30 seconds later, a United Airlines pilot on the taxiway says the jet “flew directly over us.”
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor would not comment on how close Air Canada Flight 759 came to disaster, citing the ongoing investigation.
The National Transportation Safety Board also will review what happened.
“Any time you have an incident where there’s a potential for a catastrophic event, we take an interest,” spokesman Keith Holloway said.
It is rare for pilots to mistake a taxiway for a runway, and when it happens, it usually involves small planes at smaller airports. Taxiways do not have the same distinctive markings and lighting that appear on runways.
Earlier this year, actor Harrison Ford flew over an airliner and landed his small plane on a taxiway John Wayne Airport in Southern California. The FAA did not sanction Ford.
Collisions on the ground are particularly dangerous because planes waiting to take off are loaded with fuel. The worst crash in aviation history occurred in 1977 when a KLM Boeing 747 taking off in the Canary Islands plowed into a Pan Am 747 that was waiting to take off; 583 people died in the crash and fires.
In December 2015, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 landed on a central taxiway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. No one was injured.
The San Francisco incident, which Air Canada says it is examining, was first reported Monday by the Bay Area News Group.
Curtis, the safety consultant, said it was impossible to know how often commercial pilots line up their landing for a taxiway instead of a runway because government databases only capture that if there is an accident or serious incident.
Other aviation safety experts noted that while safety systems did work in the end, the incident was serious and could have been calamitous.
Investigators will focus on “how did this series of errors occur, and why didn’t safeguards kick in earlier than they did?” said John Cox, a safety consultant and retired airline pilot.
Cox said it was likely that even if the air traffic controllers didn’t order the Air Canada plane to pull up and make another approach, the crew would have seen planes on the taxiway in time to avoid landing on them.
He said pilots practice low-altitude go-arounds and can perform them even 20 or 30 feet above the ground.
Investigators will be able to determine the Air Canada plane’s altitude and exact location using the flight-data recorder.
Chris Manno, an American Airlines pilot for 32 years who regularly lands in San Francisco, agreed that a crash was unlikely even without a command to go around.
The pilot “is not just blindly going to say, ‘I’m going to land on these aircraft,’” Manno said.
A spokesman for San Francisco’s airport declined to comment.

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Trump hails son Don Jr for ‘transparency’ over Russia meeting

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-07-11 21:36

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his eldest son Don Jr — who is under fire for his meeting with a Russian lawyer during last year’s US presidential campaign — and hailed his “transparency” for releasing e-mails about the talks.
“My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” Trump said in a statement to reporters read by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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Foreign ministers meet on Europe’s ‘crisis of confidence’

Tue, 2017-07-11 13:30

MAUERBACH, Austria: The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) sought Tuesday to break the deadlock over an unprecedented leadership crisis within the security body at an informal gathering of member states in Austria.
The meeting outside Vienna of 30 foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, also discussed escalating violence in eastern Ukraine, where the OSCE has a monitoring mission.
The OSCE has been without a chief since the mandate of former Secretary General Lamberto Zannier ended on June 30.
Several of the body’s 57 member states have blocked the appointment of a successor as they demand national concessions. Three other top OSCE posts also remain vacant because of the internal rifts.
Austria, the OSCE’s rotating chair and host of Tuesday’s meeting, said it will “put pressure” on the countries to solve the crisis.
“I will demand that my colleagues show some willingness to compromise,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told reporters ahead of the gathering at an upscale hotel.
“Those interested in a strong OSCE will need to accept compromises so that leading roles can be filled and the organization can carry out its work.”
Earlier this month, the OSCE’s outgoing secretary general said that the organization, created during the Cold War to ease dialogue between East and the West, risked becoming obsolete unless it “rethought its fundamentals.”
On Tuesday, Kurz warned that the OSCE was also facing a “crisis of confidence” over the bloody separatist conflict pitting pro-Russian rebels against Ukrainian government forces.
“We have a crisis of confidence within OSCE member states. The conflict in Ukraine has split our continent,” he said.
“I hope the European Union and Russia can find a way of growing closer. Peace on our continent is only possible with Russia.”
He reiterated the OSCE’s commitment announced earlier this year to boost its observer mission in eastern Ukraine from around 800 to 1,000 monitors.
The conflict as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 have pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since the pro-Russian insurgency began in April 2014, which Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of orchestrating.
The US and the EU have imposed sanctions on Russia, though Moscow has denied backing the rebels.
Absent from the meeting in Mauerbach were US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain.

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Portugal charges 18 policemen over ‘racist conduct’

Tue, 2017-07-11 03:00

LISBON, Portugal: Authorities in Portugal are bringing charges of torture, assault, providing false statements and other crimes against 18 police officers over alleged racist conduct.
The Lisbon attorney general’s office said the crimes refer to an incident in 2015, when police clashed with young black men in a poor neighborhood near Lisbon.
A brief statement on the attorney general’s website Tuesday said the police officers are suspected of “severe abuse” of their position and neglecting their duty. It accuses them of offensive acts and insults, without describing the alleged crimes in detail.
Authorities launched an investigation after some of the young men alleged police had beaten and insulted them following their arrest. The charges say the police involved lied to investigators about what had happened.
Mussolini posters to be removed from Italian beach
Italian government authorities have ordered the removal of pro-fascist posters at a beach near Venice.
Ansa, the Italian news agency, said the ordinance issued on Monday by the prefect based in Venice cited concerns that public order could be disturbed by signs and photos of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s wartime fascist dictator. Italian law forbids glorifying fascism.
One of the signs proclaimed the area to be an “anti-democratic” zone.
Rome daily La Repubblica reported on Sunday that pro-Mussolini speeches were blasted over the Chioggia beach’s loudspeaker, and that one sign warned that facilities on the beach were for paying customers, otherwise “a truncheon on your teeth.” It quoted the 64-year-old owner of the concession as saying: “Here, my rules count.”
Italian beaches usually have a snack bar, changing rooms, bathrooms and beach chairs available for a fee, operated by a concession-holder who pays the local authorities.

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Russia likely to expel 30 US envoys in diplomatic tussle

Tue, 2017-07-11 16:43

MOSCOW: Russia is considering retaliatory measures after the US expelled 35 of its diplomats in December, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, without disclosing details.
Russian newspaper Izvestia said Monday citing sources that Moscow may be expelling 30 US diplomats and seize some US property in the country.
“We are thinking about specific steps, and I don’t believe that this should be discussed publicly,” Lavrov told journalists in a televised briefing.
He blamed the “outrageous” move on the administration of former President Barack Obama which “wanted to poison Russian-American relations to the maximum and do everything to put the Trump administration in a trap.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told RIA-Novosti news agency that “there were several variants of a response and a harsh reaction is prepared.”
The expelled diplomats were based in Washington and San Francisco.
Obama announced the expulsions and the closure of two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland in response to purported hacking attacks dubbed “Grizzly Steppe” by US officials. He gave diplomats and their families 72 hours to leave.
President Vladimir Putin at the time ruled out kicking out US diplomats, a move that was interpreted as Moscow’s hope to build ties with the Trump administration.
The Russian strongman even invited US diplomats’ families to a party in the Kremlin.
However, Moscow is keen to regain its properties in the US and the subject was on the agenda of Putin’s first face-to-face meeting with Trump in Hamburg, according to the Kremlin.
Ryabkov reiterated Monday that “diplomatic property should be returned to us,” RIA-Novosti reported.
Trump said he had pressed Putin over alleged meddling in the US election that catapulted him to power but the Russian leader “vehemently denied it.”
The US Senate last month approved additional tough sanctions on Russia aimed at punishing Moscow for the alleged election interference.
Lavrov warned that these threatened “the whole relationship” between Russia and the US.
The sanctions led Moscow to cancel a meeting in June between US Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon with Russia’s Ryabkov. The two are to meet next week, according to reports.

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